UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The death toll from a recent outbreak of fighting in South Sudan is almost certain to climb above the 272 people, including 33 civilians, reported by the government, United Nations officials said Wednesday.
Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council that government forces are obstructing the movement of U.N. personnel "every step of the way" making it hard to ascertain what has gone on since the fighting erupted between the government and rebel forces last week.
"I would believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg given alarming reports indicating over the last few days many civilians were barred from reaching safer ground," he said, referring to the official death toll.
Ellen Margrethe Loj, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, echoed Ladsous' assessment.
"I know for a fact, because I've seen it with my own eyes, that I don't think all the casualties and the bodies have been collected and a proper count has been done, if it ever will be," Loj said addressing reporters via videolink from Juba, the South Sudan capital.
Both officials said that while the cease-fire in Juba appears to be holding since it was declared Monday night, further clashes cannot be ruled out.
Ladsous said he was particularly worried by reports of government and rebel forces mobilizing near Malakal in the Upper Nile region and Leer in Unity state.
The Security Council is considering a request from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to place an arms embargo on South Sudan and to ratchet up sanctions on individuals accused of hindering the peace process, but diplomats reported no progress on sanctions following Wednesday's meeting.
"There is the need, immediately, to impose an arms embargo. That's long been the British position and increasingly is becoming the position of others on the Council as well, which I welcome," Britain's U.N. ambassador Matthew Rycroft said.
The country's civil war, sparked by ethnic unrest between the Dinka and Nuer peoples, began in December 2013 and has since killed tens of thousands of people. A fragile truce came with a peace deal signed last August.
South Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Akuei Bona Mawal said the latest fighting has had a severe impact on the "few achievements of the Transitional Government of National Unity.
"Nevertheless, the Transitional Government remains committed to implementation of the agreement and considers the setbacks as a learning curve," Mawal said.