East African mediators want armed units from the region to protect cease-fire monitors and oil fields in South Sudan, said Seyoum Mesfin, chief envoy from the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have made a “positive response” to requests to participate in a “neutral stabilization and protection force,” Seyoum told reporters today in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where peace talks have been taking place.
The United Nations would have to fund the force, said Seyoum, a former Ethiopian foreign minister. Regional leaders will discuss the proposal at a summit to be held before negotiations between South Sudan’s government and rebels resume on March 20, he said.
Fighting that started in South Sudan Dec. 15 has left thousands of people dead and forced at least 860,000 more to flee their homes, according to the UN, which already has more than 8,000 peace-keepers and police in the world’s newest nation.
The violence began when President Salva Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he fired in July, of leading a failed coup. The ensuing violence pitted members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community against Machar’s Nuer group. Clashes have continued since a truce was signed on Jan. 23.
UN Security Council members may take time to approve the East African force unless it’s financed by troop contributors and other African nations, Solomon Dersso, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said today in a phone interview from Addis Ababa.
“I don’t think there would be prior approval of the funding for the stand-by force by the UN,” he said. “At a time like this in particular when these countries are pushing for a reduction in peacekeeping costs it’s unlikely they will give that kind of blank-check approval.”
Seyoum said he didn’t think the mandate of the force and how it’s funded would be a stumbling block.
“There’s now a general understanding and acceptance that the force must be done if we’re to see the cessation of hostilities enforced,” he said today in an interview.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil reserves, according to BP Plc data. The country’s low-sulfur crude is prized by Japanese buyers as a cleaner-burning fuel for power generation.
The country is pumping about 160,000 barrels a day from a capacity of as much as 400,000 barrels per day, according to the government.
Under the East African proposal, larger units stationed outside South Sudan could intervene if cease-fire monitors were attacked, Seyoum said.
“Any imminent danger coming from any of the parties on the ground undermining the role of the units as they are small units, deterrent units, then the stand-by force can be deployed and protect the mission,” he said.
Uganda, which has been fighting alongside South Sudan’s military, has agreed to withdraw its forces if regional peace-keepers become involved, Seyoum said.
“We’re certain that this commitment of the government of Uganda will be honored,” he said.