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UN Security Council votes to double peacekeeping mission in South Sudan

December 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: We take a look at two bordering African nations consumed by conflict, beginning with South Sudan, where fighting continued today, as fears of civil war prompted the United Nations to send more help to the world’s youngest nation.

The Security Council voted to nearly double the size of the peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, hoping additional troops will protect civilians from the worsening violence.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned all sides in the conflict that the world is watching.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General: Attacks on civilians and the U.N. peacekeepers must cease immediately. The United Nations will investigate reports of these incidents and of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible will be held personally accountable.

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, the country’s president, Salva Kiir, said his troops have retaken the city of Bor from rebels. But there were also reports that dozens of bodies of government soldiers were found in a mass grave in Bentiu.

In all, U.N. officials report more than 1,000 people have been killed in South Sudan and more than 100,000 turned into refugees since fighting broke out only a week ago. Many are seeking shelter at U.N. bases in the capital of Juba and elsewhere.

WOMAN (through interpreter): The two factions should be reconciled by the international community, so that the problem is solved once and for all, so that everyone can go back where they came from. We can’t live like this.

GWEN IFILL: The conflict erupted after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of plotting a coup.

Heavy fighting in Bor over the weekend prompted the U.N. to evacuate nonessential staff and wounded civilians from its mission there.

TOBY LANZER, United Nations: There was a lot of looting, a lot of gunshots, a lot of dead bodies, and very, very out-of-control youth heavily armed. And that needs to be brought under control.

GWEN IFILL: Rebels in Bor also fired on three U.S. Osprey aircraft Saturday, wounding four American troops as they attempted to evacuate U.S. civilians. Civilian helicopters ended up bringing out the Americans.

On Sunday, President Obama alerted Congress that the 46 troops already sent to South Sudan may not be enough. He wrote: “I may take further action to support the security of U.S. citizens, personnel, and property, including our embassy in South Sudan.”

U.S. defense officials said Monday that more than 100 Marines, plus aircraft, are being moved to the Horn of Africa in case they’re needed.

Next door, in the Central African Republic, an unrelated sectarian conflict threatens that country’s stability. In March, Muslim rebels overthrew the government in the majority Christian nation. Since then, 700,000 people, almost 20 percent of the population, have fled their homes. Nine people were killed in religious violence in the country’s capital yesterday.

France has now deployed 1,600 troops to its former colony to help African Union forces trying to disarm both sides.

MAN (through interpreter): We are waiting for all the French people do their work and finish with the militias and then we will go home. But if it carries on, we will stay here, even six months if necessary.

GWEN IFILL: Last week, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, visited Bangui to appeal for peace.