UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is warning of a "very real risk of mass atrocities" in South Sudan and that peacekeepers deployed in the war-torn country will not be able to stop such a bloodbath.
Ban told the Security Council in a report released Wednesday that the United Nations must clearly define what actions it is prepared to take in the event of mass killings.
"There is a very real risk of mass atrocities being committed in South Sudan, particularly following the sharp rise in hate speech and ethnic incitement in recent weeks," Ban said.
While UN peacekeepers will resort to "all necessary means" to protect civilians, "it must be clearly understood that United Nations peacekeeping operations do not have the appropriate manpower or capabilities to stop mass atrocities," he added.
Nearly 14,000 soldiers and police are deployed in the UNMISS mission, but a recent report showed the peacekeepers failed to protect civilians during an outbreak of heavy fighting in the capital in July.
"The limits on UNMISS ability to protect civilians in the current environment have been demonstrated clearly," he said in the report sent to the council last week.
Ban plans to dispatch a delegation to the African Union in Addis Ababa to agree on a joint plan to confront a possible outbreak of mass violence in South Sudan.
The plan could include the creation of an over-the-horizon force that would quickly deploy in a crisis.
The world\’s youngest nation, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and more than 2.5 million people displaced.
The country won independence from Sudan in 2011, with strong support from the United States.
A peace deal between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in August last year had raised hopes of peace, until clashes erupted in Juba four months ago.
The UN Security Council agreed to deploy a regional force to Juba to improve security, but the government in Juba has balked at the deployment of the 4,000 troops.
In a separate confidential letter to the council obtained by AFP, Ban said Kiir\’s government had shown "piecemeal and limited consent" for the proposed regional force while continuing to impede UNMISS in its work on the ground.
The council, which will discuss South Sudan on Thursday, has threatened to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan for its refusal to cooperate, but it has yet to take action.
"South Sudan is inundated with weaponry, which is often turned on defenseless civilians," Ban said in his report, adding that "under the present circumstances, stopping the flow of additional arms into the country is critical for the protection of civilians."