1st units of South Sudan protection force arrive soon: UN

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous speaks to the media in Juba, South Sudan, Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The first units of a long-delayed regional protection force for South Sudan will deploy within a few weeks, Ladsous said Tuesday during a visit to the country's capital. (AP Photo/Bullen Chol)
The Associated Press

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — The first units of a long-delayed regional protection force for South Sudan will deploy within a few weeks, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Tuesday.

Herve Ladsous spoke during a visit to South Sudan's capital, Juba. "We'll spare no effort to speed up the process," he said.

The U.N. Security Council last year approved an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to help protect civilians after a series of reported gang-rapes and other assaults when fighting erupted in Juba in July.

But South Sudan's government had pushed back against the force amid some officials' belief that the international community was interfering in the country's affairs.

South Sudan has been devastated by a three-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands and contributed to a recently declared famine in two counties that threatens more than 100,000 people.

Ladsous said the initial troops for the regional protection force will come from Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh. It was not clear how many troops would be in the first deployment.

The goal of the force is to free up other units of the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission already on the ground in South Sudan, Ladsous said. The peacekeeping mission took the unique decision at the beginning of the civil war to open its bases to civilians fleeing the violence, and tens of thousands continue to take shelter there.

Peacekeepers have been largely confined to areas close to their bases amid the fighting and hostility from some in South Sudan's government.

Ladous warned, however, that the protection force would not bring about peace or stability, and he called on South Sudan's government to care for its own people.

"We can't have one blue helmet behind every South Sudanese citizen," he said. "The government is responsible to protect its civilians and we're here to support that."