UN demands halt to fighting in South Sudan as it extends mission by a year

This is a 'make or break' year for the world’s newest nation, UN's special envoy says

Military trainees at a training centre in Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan, in June 2020. AP
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The UN Security Council on Wednesday voted to extend for another year its mission in South Sudan, while demanding an immediate end to all fighting in the world's youngest state.

It pushed for swift progress by the government to ensure that delayed elections are held peacefully and freely in December 2024.

Thirteen of the council's 15 members voted to extend the mandate for the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission until March 15, 2024. China and Russia abstained.

South Sudan is undertaking a fragile peace process but remains plagued by post-civil-war violence.

The oil-rich nation gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long conflict, but slid into civil war in December 2013 largely based on ethnic divisions, with forces loyal to President Salva Kiir battling those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, which ended with a 2018 peace agreement that brought Mr Kiir and Mr Machar together in a government of national unity.

Last week, UN special envoy for South Sudan Nicholas Haysom, who heads the peacekeeping mission, called 2023 a “make or break” year.

Mr Haysom told the council it was possible the country could keep its commitment to hold elections in 21 months, but only if there is political will.

Most people would argue that at this stage the political environment does not exist “in which the country can withstand a robust political competition”, Mr Haysom said.

Delayed elections

South Sudan was supposed to hold elections before February 2023, but that timetable was pushed back last August to December 2024.

The Security Council resolution calls for South Sudanese authorities to make immediate progress on key milestones towards peaceful elections, including adopting a constitution and required legislation, approving transitional security arrangements and establishing an independent electoral commission.

It said the UN peacekeeping mission should focus in the near term on key conditions, among them preventing further escalation of political violence, creating conditions for an inclusive constitutional drafting process, and helping to establish "the inclusive civic space that is a prerequisite to the conduct of free and fair elections."

Ghana’s UN Ambassador Harold Agyeman, speaking on behalf of fellow African council members Gabon and Mozambique after the vote, said the UN mission was “a stabilising factor” in South Sudan and critical to addressing its socioeconomic, political and security challenges.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 11:36 AM