The African Union (AU) is considering sending troops to South Sudan, as a last resort to quell the wide scale violence that broke out between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing Vice President, Riek Machar.
At least 300 people were reported killed including two Chinese peacekeepers while thousands of civilians fled the capital Juba.
In a closed door emergency meeting during the 27th AU Summit in Kigali on Monday, delegates discussed the possibility of sending a neutral armed force to separate both groups of fighters, protect the unarmed civilians and enforce the peace agreement signed in August last year.
“The peace and security council is considering sending troops if need be, and you know that under Article IV of the assembly, we can do so. I think you will see the outcome of this meeting, but the determination is there to act on the situation, including sending a force,” Ambassador Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, told The East African in an interview.
“This adds to our frustration because we deployed tremendous efforts to have Riek Machar go back to Juba and to have the transitional government working together. We had hoped that the implementation of the peace agreement had started but unfortunately, this violent development really questions the peace agreement,” he added.
Right to intervene
He however could not disclose the timeline for when such a decision, if made, would be implemented.
Under Article IV of the protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council of the AU, the body has a right to intervene in a member state in case of grave circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
“We want a commission to establish how the conflict started and who is behind it. We must hold accountable those responsible for this violence. They have to be accountable for their actions,” ambassador Chergui said.
“The council has urged all the leaders in that country to implement an immediate ceasefire and to take all the necessary measures to have a peaceful atmosphere for the protection of civilians and to establish the commission of inquiry,” he said.
Similarly, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) council of ministers, today, condemned the fresh wave of violence in South Sudan, noting that it had “once again placed the long suffering people of South Sudan in unspeakable harm`s way”.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon also said "there must and will be accountability” for the atrocities committed in South Sudan since 2013.
“It is not just leaders who must face a reckoning, but all those in the chain of command, including chiefs of staff and other officials complicit in the violence,” he said in a statement.
South Sudan has experienced waves of violence since its independence in 2011, with a civil war breaking out at the end of 2013 when Kiir accused his deposed deputy, Machar, of plotting a coup.
in August 2015, a peace deal was signed and Machar was reinstated as vice president in the hope that the conflict would finally end - but fighting has continued despite the establishment of a transitional unity government.