The mandate for the United Nations mission in South Sudan expires on Friday. A new regional force is supposed to augment the mission, but will it really help to restore peace?
It's a difficult task that awaits the 15 member countries of the UN Security Council in New York later this week. The current mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) expires on Friday, yet simply extending it once again seems out of question.
The mission has frequently been praised for providing shelter for more than 200,000 civilians on its bases, but it hasn't been able to stop the fighting.
"The peacekeepers have a tough and robust mandate. They can already protect civilians," Marina Peter, advisor on South Sudan with Brot für die Welt, a German development charity, told DW.
There were, however, unresolved questions. "Were there enough pacekeepers and were they tough enough not to be afraid of becoming targets themselves," she added.
Experts say more troops are needed urgently.
The United States is proposing a regional protection force of 4,000 additional soldiers to complement the peacekeeping mission, according to a draft Security Council resolution seen by different media outlets.
The protection force would ensure that peace is kept in the capital Juba and prevent attacks on UN bases, where more than 200,000 people have sought refuge.
UNMISS has a current strength of some 12,000 soldiers and armed police. Anaylsts say they should not be asked to do too much.
"It is important to have realistic expectations about what a force of 12,000 soldiers can do in a country the size of France without a reliable political solution to the underlying conflict," Henrik Maihack, South Sudan country director of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, told DW.
Peacekeepers unfamiliar with mandate
But the challenge is not just to put more boots on the ground.
Maihack said soldiers were often in the dark about what action their mandate empowered them to take.
"There was an incident in the town of Malakal in which it took several hours for UNMISS to respond to an attack on one of their 'protection of civilian' sites. Afterwards, an investigation revealed that it was not clear to the peacekeepers what they were allowed to do, and they requested written orders," Maihack said.
Deploy outside Juba
East African regional bloc IGAD agreed to deploy a regional force to South Sudan last Friday.
South Sudan's government, which initially threatened to block the deployment of additional soldiers, has now signaled its approval.
"The government categorically rejected the deployment of an intervention force and this was explained at the summit. So what has been accepted in principle is simply the deployment of a protection force," cabinet minister Martin Lomoro told the Sudan Tribune newspaper.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the plan.
Marina Peter from Brot für die Welt said restricting deployment of the force to the capital Juba would be a grave mistake.
"We mustn't look at Juba alone. Fighting is widespread across the country," she said.
The draft resolution also calls for an arms embargo against South Sudan if the transitional government fails to cooperate with the United States.
Two other UN Security Council permanent members, China and Russia, have in the past rejected proprosals for an arms embargo on South Sudan.
This time it could be different.
"I think China will not disagree this time around. They have lost heavily on their oil business and they have lost peacekeepers for the first time," Peter said.
Two Chinese UN soldiers died when their armed vehicle was hit during a patrol in Juba in July.
Despite all measures discussed at the UN, experts believe the fighting will only stop if both sides want it to.
"You cannot stop the fighting with the biggest force on earth. The solution has to come from within South Sudan," Peter said.