South Sudan softens stance on UN peacekeeping force

Presidential spokesperson says government will accept force if it can negotiate its size, mandate, weapons and members.

UN peacekeepers control South Sudanese wom
South Sudan has previously rejected the resolution, claiming it undermines its sovereignty [Adriane Ohanesian/Reuters]

South Sudan appears to have softened its stance on the UN resolution to send extra peacekeepers to quell violence in the country.

The UN Security Council has recently approved the deployment of an additional 4,000-strong peacekeeping force in South Sudan, after recent fighting threatened to send the country back to all-out civil war.

South Sudan has previously rejected the resolution, claiming it “seriously undermines” its sovereignty.

But the spokesman for South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has told Al Jazeera on Sunday that it has not closed the door on a UN protection force.

Ateny Wek Ateny, presidential spokesman, said the government will accept the force, but only if it can negotiate its size, mandate, weapons and the contributing countries.

South Sudan: An ever-deepening cycle of violence

The planned deployment has also been dividing opinion on the ground in South Sudan.

For the 200 000 people living in UN camps it means greater protection. But those living outside the camps fear the troops are coming to take over their country.

The difference in opinion between civilians outside the UN camps and the displaced people inside mirrors the chasm between the UN security council’s resolution and the government’s rejection of it.

While one side regards the additional troops as a guarantee of peace and security, the other side considers it a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

UN role divides opinion in South Sudan

“Despite some reports of failures to protect civilians as per their mandate, for everyone living inside the UN camps, the UN’s presence in South Sudan means protection and safety,” said Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from the South Sudanese capital Juba.

“But South Sudanese people living outside the camps have taken a very different view.”

Rejection of the UN resolution is within South Sudan’s rights as a country but doing so threatens to worsen its relations with the international community at a time when the country is already facing threats of an arms embargo.

“The issue will complicate the government’s position with the regional and international community,” Atem Simon, an editor and analyst from Juba, told Al Jazeera.

“If the issue is not solved diplomatically, it will complicate relations and South Sudan will lose the support of regional countries and powerful international players like the US.”

Fears of civil war

The fighting in the capital, Juba, last month raised fears of a renewed civil war after an August 2015 peace deal and worsened a humanitarian crisis.

Riek Machar, the rebel leader and former first vice president, fled during the fighting and said he would return only when regional peacekeepers secured the capital.

READ MORE: UN accuses South Sudan troops of committing atrocities

The civil war began in December 2013 when government forces loyal to President Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by Machar, a Nuer.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the fighting and more than two million people were displaced.

Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August 2015 under which Machar was to be first vice president, but fighting has continued.

The resolution demands that South Sudan’s leaders immediately end the fighting and implement the peace deal.

Source: Al Jazeera