US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday that South Sudan’s conflict could become genocide, as he renewed threats of sanctions and said that more peacekeeping forces could be deployed to halt the bloodshed.
Kerry, who held talks in South Sudan with foreign ministers from neighboring Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, said all agreed the “killing must stop.”
“A legitimate force that has an ability to help make peace needs to get on the ground as rapidly as possible... In these next days, literally, we can move more rapidly to put people on the ground who could begin to make a difference,” Kerry said.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said all sides stressed the need for deployment of a force “as soon as possible.”
A spokeswoman said Kerry was referring to regional forces under the authority of the UN, which already has a mission in South Sudan. Kerry said he and his African counterparts agreed on “the terms and timing, and manner and size” of such a force, but declined to offer details.
“The greatest single difference will be moving rapidly with UN Security Council imprimatur of support to get forces on the ground who could begin to separate people, and provide safety and security,” Kerry told reporters.
More than 1 million people have fled their homes and thousands of people have been killed since fighting erupted in December last year between troops backing South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to sacked former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar.
The fighting has exacerbated ethnic tensions between the Dinka loyal to Kiir and the Machar, who back Nuer.
Negotiations between the Kiir government and the rebels have failed to advance since the Jan. 23 signing of a ceasefire that never took hold.
Asked about possible genocide, Kerry said “very disturbing, leading indicators of the kind of ethnic, tribal, targeted nationalistic killings [raised troubling questions]... Were they to continue in the way that they have been going [they] could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide.”
Delegations from both sides resumed discussions in Addis Ababa on Thursday, officials said.
A US Department of State official said regional powers were losing patience with both sides.
“I think both sides think that they can win this militarily and they have certainly not participated in any committed way to finding a negotiated settlement for the conflict,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.