Ban wants 5,500 more soldiers for UN mission in South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council will likely send thousands of additional soldiers to violence-wracked South Sudan to reinforce its mission and help it better protect civilians, diplomats said on Monday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended the Security Council send 5,500 more soldiers and 423 extra police to reinforce the current deployment of nearly 7,000 soldiers, 700 police and 2,000 civilian employees.

The United States has proposed a resolution to that effect, which will be put to a vote by the 15-member council on Tuesday at 3pm (4am Wednesday Singapore time), said French envoy Gerard Araud, who currently presides over the body.

"There was a positive reaction of all member states of the Security Council" to the resolution, he said after emergency consultations were held Monday to consider Ban's request.

His Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin called the US draft "sound." "We all agreed things need to be done in line with what the secretary general said," Churkin explained.

And US envoy Samantha Power added "there is overwhelming consensus and a desire to move quickly," though she warned "it is going to take at least a few days" to move reinforcements into place.

At a press conference earlier Monday, Ban called for the extra troops to help the UN mission protect civilians.

He also indicated he had been in contact with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and other regional leaders as the violence has escalated.

"The world is watching all sides in South Sudan," Ban said, calling for attacks against peacekeepers and civilians to "cease immediately." "The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity," Ban vowed.

"Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences - even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks." Araud has set four priorities for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan: "encouraging political dialogue, protecting civilians at UN bases, ...

providing humanitarian aid, and defending human rights." Fighting erupted after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar, who was fired from the government in July, of attempting a coup in the world's youngest nation.

Fleeing ethnic violence, some 45,000 civilians have taken refuge at UN bases, seeking protection from peacekeepers, who, Araud said, are authorized to use force to defend themselves and civilians.

Ban had recommended that five infantry units, three attack helicopters, three transport helicopters and one C-130 military transport plane be transferred to South Sudan.

Reinforcements would be drawn from other UN missions in Africa, according to a letter from Ban to the Council, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

Three police units with a total of 423 men, and human rights experts would also be sent to South Sudan, under Ban's plan.