First batch of 4,000 peacekeepers arrive South Sudan

The first batch of 4,000 peacekeepers arrived war-torn South Sudan, eight months after the Security Council authorised the deployment of extra troops.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made this known in a monthly report on the status of the deployment and obstacles facing some 13,000 peacekeepers already on the ground.

 “The situation in the country has deteriorated at a rapid pace,” Guterres said.

The 15-member Security Council approved the additional troops, known as a Regional Protection Force (RPF), in August 2016.

The approval followed several days of heavy fighting in the capital Juba between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former Vice President Riek Machar.

The force is part of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which has been in South Sudan since its independence from Sudan in 2011.

The country spiraled into civil war, with violence along ethnic lines, after Kiir sacked Machar in 2013.

“Deployment of some of the first wave elements of the RPF … has begun,” Guterres said in the report.

While it usually takes several months for the UN to get the troop contributions needed for a deployment, the world body has also had to contend with the South Sudanese government’s red tape and unwillingness to cooperate.

“It is indeed unfortunate that the first troops associated with the RPF have only begun to arrive eight months after they were initially mandated by the Security Council,” Guterres said in the report.

He added that as of May 15 there were 31 members of the Bangladesh Construction Engineering Company on the ground.

The Security Council had threatened to impose an arms embargo if Kiir’s government did not cooperate with the deployment or allow peacekeepers already on the ground to move freely to protect civilians.

The U.S. put the measure to a vote in December it failed to get the nine votes needed to pass.

Guterres said that UNMISS “continued to be obstructed and restricted in some cases encountering aggression from government forces.”

He also said humanitarian aid deliveries were being hindered.

The UN estimates about three million South Sudanese, a quarter of the population, have fled their homes, parts of the oil-producing country are in famine and top UN officials have warned of a possible genocide.