UN sends extra peacekeepers, drones to South Sudan

A United Nations peacekeeper looks at the destruction in downtown Malakal, South Sudan on March 4, 2014 (AFP Photo/Andrei Pungovschi)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN Security Council decided Tuesday to boost the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan with extra troops and surveillance drones, hoping to shore up a peace deal that has failed to take hold on the ground.

At a meeting held two years after South Sudan descended into war, the council voted to send some 500 military troops and 600 police, increasing the mission's strength to some 15,000.

The US-drafted resolution expanding the mandate of the UN mission to South Sudan was adopted by a vote of 13 in favor, but Russia and Venezuela abstained in the 15-member council.

"South Sudan has the opportunity to close the door on conflict and reclaim the promise we all saw at its birth as a nation four years ago," US Ambassador Samantha Power told the council after the vote.

Russia and Venezuela refused to endorse the resolution, citing objections over references to sanctions against those who block the peace deal and the deployment of the drones opposed by Juba.

Russia however did not veto the resolution.

The revamped peacekeeping mission marked the latest step by the council to keep the pressure on all sides who signed a peace accord in August, the latest in a string of deals that have yet to be implemented.

Power argued that international troops sent to South Sudan want the surveillance drones "so they know what is going on around them, so they are less at risk" and said the request should not be "politicized."

Russia's Deputy Ambassador Petr Williche opposed the sanctions threat as "counter-productive" and said calls for the establishment of a hybrid court to try war crimes suspects was a matter for the African Union.

Venezuela's envoy Rafael Ramirez argued that South Sudan's concerns over the deployment of drones were not taken into account and stressed that peacekeeping missions must act with the consent of host-governments.

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when President Salva Kiri accused his sacked deputy Reik Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of killings that split the country along ethnic lines.

Both men signed the peace accord in August under heavy pressure from the United Nations, which threatened sanctions.

Despite the peace deal, fighting has continued with UN experts reporting on ongoing killings, rapes, burning of villages and abductions, particularly in Unity State.

About 2.4 million people have been driven from the homes in South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011.