UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council called on South Sudan to honor commitments to allow a regional protection force into the country and grant peacekeepers freedom of movement or face a possible arms embargo.
New Zealand Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen, whose country currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency, said Wednesday that council members were concerned by statements by certain members of the South Sudan government contradicting those commitments.
“The members will assess next steps on the basis of actions not words and we expect the government to rapidly implement its commitments,” van Bohemen said.
The council met with President Salva Kiir on Sept. 4 and emerged with a joint statement accepting the new U.N.-mandated force but the next day, Cabinet Minister Martin Elia Lomuro told reporters the government must still agree on the number of troops, the countries they come from and the arms they carry.
Van Bohemen said if the secretary-general reports political or operational impediments to the regional protection force or obstructions to peacekeepers, the Security Council will consider the appropriate next steps in line with a resolution allowing for a possible arms embargo.
Speaking in his national capacity, Van Bohemen said he believed it was time to implement an arms embargo, something most Western diplomats support. But diplomats from Russia, which holds a veto at the Security Council, suggested it was still too early to consider such a move.
Heading into Wednesday’s meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said Security Council members returned from their visit to South Sudan feeling the situation was much worse than they had imagined.
“The restrictions on U.N. movement … were one thing to read about, quite another thing to see up close as the government was requiring written permission for secure movement for the U.N. in a way that we’ve not seen anywhere else in the world,” Power said.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence nearly since it was founded in 2011, with civil war breaking out in 2013 between the Dinka and Nuer peoples. A peace agreement was signed in August, but fighting, that has left tens of thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced, continues.