The UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo to prevent the increasing violence along ethnic lines in South Sudan from escalating into genocide, a top UN official said Thursday.
Adama Dieng, UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, called on the UN Security Council to take swift action, warning 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,” Dieng said.
He 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.
Dieng said that a struggling economy has contributed to the polarization of ethnic groups, which has 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, which many fear is part of a plan to launch systematic attacks against other groups.
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, US 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 will we feel if Adama Dieng’s warning come to pass,” Power said.
“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.”
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.
According to NAN, 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,” he said.
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, where a UN peacekeeping mission is deployed.
Meanwhile, Kiir has granted amnesty to more than 750 rebels, local media reported Thursday.
The 750 crossed into Congo to flee fighting in the capital Juba in July.
“The president made an amnesty for those who will be ready to come back” from refugee camps in Congo, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang was quoted as saying.
Rebel spokesman Dickson Gatluak dismissed the gesture, telling dpa that it was not sufficient to create peace.
Gatluak said that rebel troops had meanwhile killed about 20 government soldiers in three separate attacks, but an army spokesman denied the claim.