UNITED NATIONS – South Sudan is experiencing significant military action and a last push to position combatant forces because the rainy season has arrived and roads will soon become unpassable for about four months, the U.N. envoy for the conflict-wracked African country said Wednesday.
David Shearer told the U.N. Security Council that while the rains may bring a respite to large-scale military maneuvers, they greatly complicate the delivery of humanitarian aid and bring "the inevitable specter of cholera," with 7,700 cases already reported.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting, and clashes last July between supporters of Kiir and Machar set off further violence. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 3.5 million to flee their homes, more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become the world's fastest growing refugee crisis.
Kiir announced on Monday another unilateral cease-fire, a pledge to review the cases of political prisoners and plans to move ahead with a national dialogue, and Shearer said those "are very welcome." But the U.N. envoy said there will be "close scrutiny" on the number of political prisoners released and whether cease-fire monitoring can actually take place.
"The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating," Shearer said.
As for the national dialogue, he said it could bring "a welcome focus on reconciliation." But dialogue needs strong opposition participation, he said, and opposition groups have come together "and jointly denounced the national dialogue."
Shearer said the first wave of what will eventually be a 4,000-strong regional protection force has arrived in the capital of Juba. The force will add to the more than 12,000 peacekeepers who are already in South Sudan and have struggled to protect civilians.
The extra peacekeepers were mandated by the Security Council after last July's fighting in Juba killed hundreds of people and escalated the civil war across the country.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said at a news conference that "despite all the challenges, all the difficulties our peacekeepers are saving lives every day in South Sudan."
"There is war. There is famine. Our peacekeepers are operating in very, very difficult conditions. They do not get the kind of support and cooperation they would deserve from the parties, particularly from the government," he said.
Lacroix stressed that "there will be no military solution in South Sudan so the importance of having a viable, credible process aimed at a truly inclusive dialogue, reaching a political solution — this is paramount."