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article imageDelays, dispute hamper plans for UN regional force for South Sudan

By Carole LANDRY (AFP)     Jan 17, 2017 in World

Plans to deploy a UN regional force in South Sudan are bogged down in delays over visas, the allocation of land for bases and a dispute over protecting Juba airport, according to a confidential report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The Security Council decided six months ago to deploy the 4,000-strong protection force in Juba to bolster the UN peacekeeping mission that failed to protect civilians during heavy fighting in the capital in July.

In a report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recent statements from South Sudanese officials "shed doubt" on the government's "actual willingness to actively cooperate with the deployment and operationalization of the force."

South Sudanese ministers have in recent weeks said the regional force was no longer needed, but other officials have come out to reaffirm President Salva Kiir's commitment to the deployment.

Visas for reconnaissance teams from Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have been pending for over a month, along with approval for one of two sites in Juba chosen to house the units, said the report sent to the council Monday.

Talks on ensuring security at Juba airport broke down in disagreement last month in what Guterres described as "a deeply disturbing development" in discussions on the tasks of the new force.

- Rwanda, Ethiopia ready to go -

Rwanda and Ethiopia are ready to send their troops to be part of the new force, with the first elements from a Kigali battalion able to arrive in late February or early March.

Guterres said he was also pressing for a Rwandan tactical helicopter unit to be deployed in the first wave.

Kenya has told the United Nations it was open to discussing its participation in the new force even though it withdrew its peacekeepers from South Sudan to protest a UN decision to fire the Kenyan commander of the mission.

A delegation from the UN peacekeeping office is due to visit Nairobi to discuss Kenya's role, said the report.

After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and more than 3.1 million people displaced.

There is growing alarm over the humanitarian crisis in the country as the conflict entered its fourth year.

More than six million people -- half of South Sudan's population -- are in need of urgent aid and humanitarian organizations expect this number to rise by 20 to 30 percent next year.

In the first weeks of his tenure as secretary-general, Guterres has been engaged in telephone diplomacy with regional leaders to discuss the way forward in South Sudan.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 was in tatters after rebel leader Riek Machar fled Juba during the fighting in July. Now in exile in South Africa, Machar has called for a return to all-out war.

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