JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - The United Nations has extended its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan until August 12, amid increasing reports of renewed violence in the country's southern states.
The mandate for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) had been due to expire Sunday. Friday's unanimous vote by the Security Council in New York was seen as a short-term gesture while world powers consider either sending in more troops or imposing an arms embargo on the world's newest nation, or both.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said there had been "very disturbing reports of significant violence" in South Sudan's Equatoria states. The reports followed intense fighting in Juba this month that killed more than 300 people.
The U.N. mission, made up of 10,000 troops, was unable to intervene in the battles in the capital between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and others who back the former first deputy vice president, Riek Machar, because both are equipped with heavy weapons, including tanks and helicopters. However, thousands of civilians gathered at UNMISS bases in search of a safe refuge during the street battles.
On the edge
"All of us need to be on alert this weekend because events could spiral rapidly out of control yet again," Power said before the Security Council vote late Friday. The violence in Juba was "horrifying but, sadly, not unexpected," she noted, because South Sudan's leaders are unable to work together.
"Let us not be fooled that time is on our side," she told fellow council members. "It is not."
Unrest in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million since December 2013.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Security Council to fortify the peacekeeping mission. He also supports an arms embargo and sanctions against political or military officials in South Sudan who block implementation of last year's peace deal.
In South Sudan, meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced new travel restrictions for most foreign diplomats and all U.N. officials coming to Juba. All travel plans to South Sudan's capital must be presented 72 hours in advance, along with reasons for the visit and the duration of the travelers' stay, ministry officials said.
Authorities instructed passport and immigration control officers to refuse visas to anyone arriving at Juba International Airport who has not complied with the new regulations. The only exceptions are diplomats from South Sudan's neighbor states in East Africa.
Focus on security
Thomas Kenneth, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the regulations were not intended to hinder the work of U.N. officials or foreign diplomats, but to improve security, "to monitor things carefully," following the Juba fighting.
Machar left the capital after the clashes began, saying he would return only after international troops were deployed as a buffer force to separate his forces from Kiir's. However, the president announced this week that he had removed Machar and appointed a new first vice president. By doing so, Kiir defied a U.N. warning that any political appointments must comply with the peace agreement Kiir and Machar signed nearly a year ago in Addis Ababa.
“South Sudan has its own rules and regulations, which must be respected by the foreign diplomats [and] UNMISS," Kenneth said. “We are in a very critical time.”
A South Sudanese legal expert in South Africa said Juba is creating problems for itself by banning visitors. Remember Miamingi, a professor in the law department at the University of Pretoria, said UNMISS represents the international community, and any move to restrict U.N. officials' movements would be "a diplomatic blunder."