East African leaders approved a regional force to protect 36 ceasefire monitors and oil fields in South Sudan that they want to be on the ground by the middle of next month, chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin said.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have offered to send troops to an Intergovernmental Authority on Development team monitoring a truce between the government and rebels agreed in January, Seyoum told reporters today at a regional summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Djibouti may join the mission, he said.
The size and cost of the force will depend on the situation in South Sudan, he said, without providing further details.
“To make it more affordable and effective, that’s why leaders have decided to make this lean, small compared to other missions,” Seyoum said. “The main backbone of the mission is the stand-by forces that will be prepared and made ready by the troop-contributing countries in their capitals.”
Fighting in South Sudan has left thousands of people dead and forced at least 860,000 more to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. Clashes began in December after 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.
The East African force with a “protection and deterrent” mandate would have to be funded by the UN and approved by the Security Council, Seyoum, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, said.
The UN Mission in South Sudan has about 8,000 soldiers and police in the world’s newest country.
The East African force should be “included in the UN framework already within existence,” U.S. Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth said at the opening ceremony of the regional summit today.
East African nations should retain control of their initiative, Seyoum said, adding that he was “confident” the Security Council would approve the force.
Ugandan troops have been backing South Sudan’s army since the clashes began. If asked Uganda is prepared to contribute to the IGAD force, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said in an interview today in Addis Ababa.
Seyoum said he didnt see a need for Ugandan troops to contribute to the IGAD initiative.