UNITED NATIONS (AP) — United Nations peacekeepers in South Sudan have a robust new mandate and thousands of additional troops despite government opposition to the move, raising the possibility of clashes between blue helmets and the country's armed forces.
The Security Council on Friday approved a U.S.-drafted resolution granting expanded powers to peacekeepers requiring them to use "all necessary means" to protect U.N. personnel and installations and to take "proactive" measures to protect civilians from threats. The resolution also adds an additional 4,000 soldiers from Africa nations, bringing the peacekeeping force's troops to around 17,000
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, has been criticized for failing to protect civilians when U.N. sites came under attack last month. It has also been accused of failing to intervene in cases where government forces allegedly committed rapes outside U.N. camps.
The vote was 11 in favor with Russia, China, Venezuela and Egypt abstaining. Those abstaining cited concerns over the Security Council's failure to obtain South Sudan's consent for the regional protection force that would patrol around Juba, the capital.
South Sudan's Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal told the council his country rejected the resolution because it failed to consider his country's views.
"The adoption of this resolution goes against the basic principle of U.N. peacekeeping operations which is the consent of the main parties to the conflict and also goes against the U.N. Charter," Malwal said. "Consent of South Sudan to the mandate and operational modalities of the protection force outlined in the resolution would have been important as it would have given the force all the necessary freedoms to carry out the outlined mandated tasks."
U.S. deputy ambassador David Pressman said he was aware of South Sudan's reservations.
"We recognize the importance of government cooperation, but the United States would point to the actions of the government. For while we expect the South Sudanese government to treat the United Nations like the partner that it is, that is simply not is happening on the ground in South Sudan today. Instead, as we all know, the Government of South Sudan's troops are actively blocking United Nations personnel from carrying out their life saving work, which in some cases has led to the deaths of U.N. peacekeepers," Pressman said.
In South Sudan, Presidential Spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said his country was not prepared to accept the 4,000 troops unless their mandate was limited to the protection of peace monitors, humanitarian agencies and internally displaced persons.
"Unless they are coming to invade South Sudan, we are a sovereign country. If the whole world has decided to make us a protectorate, we will see from there," Ateny said. "If we do not cooperate they cannot come."
The resolution does not impose an arms embargo as many, including more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers, have demanded but instead threatens a possible arms embargo if South Sudan does not cooperate.
Ambassadors from Britain and Spain expressed disappointment an arms embargo was not included in the resolution.
"We are disappointed that there is not an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan. We think that the time for introducing an arms embargo is now," deputy British ambassador to the U.N. Peter Wilson said ahead of the vote. He said that while a number of countries supported the embargo others argued that it disadvantages one side in the fighting.
South Sudan, the world's youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence nearly since it was founded in 2011, with civil war breaking out in 2013 between the Dinka and Nuer peoples. A peace agreement was signed in August, but fighting continues.
The civil war began in December 2013 when government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battled rebels led by his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the fighting and over 2 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 continued and last month hundreds of people were killed when army factions loyal to the two men clashed in the capital Juba.
The resolution demands that South Sudan's leaders immediately end the fighting and implement the peace deal.
Associated Press Writer Justin Lynch contributed to this report from Juba South Sudan.