South Sudan said on Wednesday it opposed a proposal to station extra foreign troops in the country under U.N. command, something the United States, Western nations and regional countries want in order to prevent a slide back into civil war.
The government said last week it would allow a deployment of African troops to Juba, after fighting between President Salva Kiir’s forces and fighters loyal to his rival, former vice president Riek Machar, killed dozens of people and drove tens of thousands from the capital last month.
But on Wednesday, Information Minister Michael Makuei said the force should be independent rather than under U.N. command. He said U.S. moves to impel the government to accept such a force smacked of imperialism.
“We do not want the protection force to be under UNMISS,” Makuei said, accusing the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, which currently has 12,000 troops, of failing to protect civilians.
The U.N. Security Council is negotiating a U.S.-backed proposal for an additional 4,000-strong force to ensure peace in Juba, under UNMISS command. Makuei said Washington’s aim was “turning South Sudan into a protectorate.“
“If South Sudan is turned into a UN protectorate, then this is not the end of the game but the beginning,” Makuei said.
“It will begin with South Sudan, but it will end up with all of us being turned into new colonies.”
Under the US proposal, the force would be part of a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS, which has been on the ground since the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
If UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reports within a month that authorities have blocked the regional force, an arms embargo could be imposed on South Sudan in a vote suggested in the proposal.
“There is a clear split in the (Security Council) between those who insist on sovereignty above all else and those who want to make sure there is a robust protection force,” said a senior Security Council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The regional African grouping IGAD and other African nations have pushed for the additional troops, saying they should be put under U.N. command in a statement on Sunday.
The regional block last week said South Sudan had agreed to a regional force, but Makuei on Wednesday disagreed and said the government had not been consulted.
Yasmina Bouziane, a spokeswoman for the UN mission, told the AP news agency that South Sudan’s government has seized at least 86 passports of UN workers and imposed other restrictions that were a “clear violation” of the UN’s operating agreement with the authorities.
In addition, the UN World Food Programme has had its flight clearances revoked for all food drops coming from neighbouring Ethiopia, said spokesman George Fominyen.
South Sudan’s Foreign Minister, Deng Alor, has called it a temporary safety measure.
Deadly fighting in the capital, Juba, last month raised fears of a renewed civil war after an August 2015 peace deal and worsened a humanitarian crisis.
Machar withdrew his troops to outside of Juba after a ceasefire ended street battles in the capital in July and called for the foreign troop deployment to act as a buffer between the rival forces.
The five-year history of South Sudan has been dominated by civil conflict between the two sides, much of it following ethnic lines.
A shaky peace deal was agreed a year ago, but it was frequently violated. Machar returned to Juba as deputy president in April but Kiir appointed a new deputy to replace him in late July.
Former US Ambassador to South Sudan proposes UN and AU takeover of the country to end political crisis. Recent endorsement by AU to send more regional forces to the country has been fiercely rejected by President Salva Kiir, said it is tantamount to ‘invasion’. The SPLM warns it will fight any force than the current 22,000 strong UNMISS peacekeeping force deployed with out the consent of the government and people of South Sudan.