More fighting could break out in South Sudan despite a two-day ceasefire that followed a major outbreak of violence in the capital, Juba, in which almost 300 people were killed, the United Nations peacekeeping chief has warned.
Herve Ladsous issued the warning on Wednesday, as Germany pulled about 100 of its nationals out of the country, where tensions remain high despite a break in fighting.
“We remain very worried about the potential for the resumption of violence and spillover into other parts of the country, as we have seen in the past,” Ladsous told the Security Council, in New York.
The UN’s worries come as Vice President Riek Machar urged the organisation on Wednesday to establish a “buffer zone” between his forces and government troops who are loyal to President Salva Kiir.
Machar’s forces have fled the capital to an undisclosed location. A spokesman told Al Jazeera that the vice president “does not feel safe” enough to return to Juba.
The UN is considering an emergency request from regional leaders to send an intervention brigade to Juba that could secure the airport and separate the warring sides.
Higher death toll
At least 272 people were killed in fighting on Friday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday saw the two sides pause to mark the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence.
The UN’s Ladsous said he was convinced the death toll was “only the tip of the iceberg” because many civilians were barred from reaching safer grounds such as UN compounds.
Ray Okech, a local journalist who hid in the bushes to avoid the violence, told the DPA news agency that dead bodies were still strewn on the streets.
At least 42,000 people have fled their homes in the latest flare-up, with 7,000 taking shelter in UN peacekeeping bases. Aid groups and churches in the city have taken in 35,000 people.
“Government troops appear to be in full control of Juba but opposition forces remain around the west of the city and “further clashes cannot be ruled out,” Ladsous said.
Both army and rebel forces are mobilising around parts of Malakal in the Upper Nile region and Leer in Unity state, fuelling worries of fighting there, he added.
On Wednesday, President Kiir issued an amnesty to soldiers who fought government troops.
The East African IGAD trade bloc of eight countries called on the UN to strengthen the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan with more troops and better equipment, including attack helicopters.
UN officials are leaning on African governments to beef up the mission, known as UNMISS, before an African Union summit on Sunday in Kigali, where the crisis will be discussed.
The Security Council is also considering an appeal from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an arms embargo to be imposed on South Sudan and sanctions targeted against commanders responsible for violence.
Meanwhile, the White House said on Wednesday that it had deployed 47 troops to South Sudan to protect US citizens and the US embassy.
“These deployed personnel will remain in South Sudan until the security situation becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” the White House said in a statement.
South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 after President Kiir fired Machar, unleashing a wave of violence that has left tens of thousands dead.
Although Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August last year, fighting has continued.
South Sudan’s UN Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal described the latest fighting as a “setback” that his government considered part of “a learning curve”, adding that he remained committed to the peace deal.