UN mandates South Sudan force to prevent return to civil war

FILE - In this Saturday, June 27, 2020 file photo, trainees parade with the wooden mock guns which they use to train with, during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan. The scale of violence in South Sudan is "a lot worse" than during the country's five-year civil war, a United Nations commission announced Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, accusing senior officials of supporting armed groups that at times have included tens of thousands of fighters. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, June 27, 2020 file photo, trainees parade with the wooden mock guns which they use to train with, during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan. The scale of violence in South Sudan is "a lot worse" than during the country's five-year civil war, a United Nations commission announced Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, accusing senior officials of supporting armed groups that at times have included tens of thousands of fighters. (AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

CAMEROON – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to extend the almost 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, with a mandate “to advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war” and build peace both nationally and locally.

The resolution approved by the council also authorizes the mission, known as UNMISS, to “support inclusive and accountable governance and free, fair and peaceful elections.”

It demands that all parties to the conflict and armed groups “immediately end the fighting throughout South Sudan.”

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after gaining its long-fought independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the world’s youngest nation slid 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 belongs to the Nuer people.

Numerous attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 — only to flee the country months later amid fresh fighting. Intense international pressure followed a 2018 peace deal, and on Feb. 22, 2020 a coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as his deputy, was formed. But peace still remains elusive.

The civil war has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions, and the death toll keeps rising.

The Security Council resolution recognized the reduction in violence between parties to the peace agreement, “and that the permanent cease-fire was upheld in most parts of the country.”

But it also strongly condemned all fighting, including increased violence between armed groups in some parts of the country “which has killed and displaced thousands. And it condemned the mobilization of these armed groups by members of the government’s forces and by armed opposition groups.