A top UN official has called on the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan to prevent the increasing violence along ethnic lines in the country from escalating into genocide.
Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide on Friday in New York called on the Council to take swift action.
He warned that he had witnessed an “environment ripe for mass atrocities” during a visit to the war-torn country last week.
“I saw all the signs that ethnic hatred and targeting of civilians could evolve into genocide if something is not done now to stop it.
Mr. Dieng said that the conflict that broke out in December 2013 as part of a political power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar could become an outright ethnic war.
“The conflict, in which tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2 million displaced, came to a brief halt as the result of a peace agreement, which led to the formation of a unity government in April, with Machar reinstated as vice president.
“But renewed fighting erupted in July, dashing hopes of peace and prompting Machar to flee the country,’’ he said.
Mr. Dieng said that a struggling economy had contributed to the polarisation of ethnic groups, which had increased since the renewed violence.
He added that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a force allied with the government, was becoming “increasingly ethnically homogenous” being made up mostly of members of the Dinka ethnic group.
The official added that many feared that SPLA was part of a plan to launch systematic attacks against other groups.
Mr. Dieng called on the council to urgently impose an arms embargo on the country, a move that several members of the council have supported for months.
Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said she would put forward a proposal for an arms embargo in the coming days.
“As this crisis escalates, we should all flash forward and ask ourselves how we will feel if Adama Dieng’s warning comes to pass.
“We will wish we did everything we could to hold spoilers and perpetrators accountable and to limit to the maximum extent we can the inflow of weapons,’’ she said.”
However, Russia, a veto-wielding member of the council, has long opposed such a measure, saying it would not be conducive to the implementation of the peace agreement.
Petr Iliichev, Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN, said Russia’s position on the issue was unchanged.
“We think that implementing such a recommendation would hardly be helpful in settling the conflict.
Mr. Iliichev added that imposing targeted sanctions on political leaders, which has also been proposed by the UN and other council members, would “further complicate” the relationship between the UN and South Sudan.
Meanwhile, Kuol Manyang, South Sudan Defence Minister, was quoted as saying that Kiir has granted amnesty to more than 750 rebels.
He said the rebels crossed into Congo in July to flee fighting in Juba.
“The president made an amnesty for those who will be ready to come back” from refugee camps in Congo.
Rebel spokesman, Dickson Gatluak, has dismissed the gesture, saying that it was not sufficient to create peace.
Mr. Gatluak said that rebel troops had meanwhile killed about 20 government soldiers in three separate attacks, but an army spokesman denied the claim.