NAIROBI — The new nation of South Sudan, created in an enormous international effort to end decades of conflict, moved closer to civil war Monday, as the government vowed to storm cities under rebel control and the UN secretary general urged a major increase in peacekeepers to help protect the tens of thousands of civilians under siege.
With an estimated 45,000 people huddled at UN compounds in the country, desperate to escape clashes that have killed hundreds or many more in the last week and even overran a peacekeeping base, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to send a rapid wave of reinforcements, including attack helicopters and a near doubling of international forces.
“The United Nations stood with you on your road to independence,” Ban said to the South Sudanese people. “We will stay with you now.”
It took decades of fighting, negotiation, and diplomacy to forge the nation of South Sudan but little more than a week of violent clashes and political brinkmanship to push it to the precipice.
South Sudan was born in the summer of 2011 with great hope and optimism, cheered on by global powers, including the United States, that helped shepherd it into existence.
‘The United Nations stood with you on your road to independence. We will stay with you now,’ said Ban Ki-moon.
The nation was carved out of Sudan to end one of Africa’s longest and costliest civil wars.
But the rivalry between two of South Sudan’s political leaders, President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, along with the longstanding divisions between their ethnic groups, threaten what little cohesion holds the state together.
As diplomats scrambled to get South Sudan’s colliding leaders to sit down for talks, Kiir’s government warned that it would march on a pair of strategic cities it had lost to opposing forces.
One lies in a state that is central to South Sudan’s oil production, a linchpin of the economy and the country’s hopes for development. The other is home to a UN base where an estimated 17,000 people had taken shelter from thousands of encroaching militiamen.
UN officials told a closed meeting of the Security Council on Monday afternoon that fighting could break out within 48 hours in Bor, the site of the UN base.
On Monday, the Pentagon said it was stepping up its planning to evacuate Americans and protect those who remain in South Sudan. About 150 Marines and six transport aircraft are being sent from Spain to Djibouti, where an emergency force was created following the deadly attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
The United States also put forward a Security Council resolution Monday to approve Ban’s plea for more international peacekeepers. There are more than 7,600 UN military personnel and police officers in the country, and the measure would increase that number to about 13,000, drawn from other peacekeeping missions.