(Updates with aid appeal in ninth paragraph.)
Dec. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations Security Council voted to bolster the UN’s peace-keeping mission in South Sudan and help end a worsening conflict that the African Union warned risks escalating into a full-scale civil war.
The council yesterday unanimously approved UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s request to add as many as 5,500 soldiers and 423 police officers to the force of 7,900 uniformed personnel already authorized.
“Even with additional capabilities, we will not be able to protect every civilian in need in South Sudan,” Ban said after the vote. “The parties are responsible to end the conflict. Political dialog, in the end, is the only solution.”
Fighting erupted in South Sudan on Dec. 15 when gunmen attacked the presidential palace in the capital, Juba, and tried to overthrow President Salva Kiir. The government says the attempted coup was carried out by forces loyal to Riek Machar, the former vice president deposed by Kiir in July. At least 500 people have been killed in the ensuing violence that has heightened ethnic tensions, with Machar’s ethnic Nuer group pitted against Kiir’s Dinka people.
West Texas Intermediate crude yesterday rose for the fourth time in five days as the conflict forced a partial shutdown of South Sudan’s oil-production facilities. The country exports about 220,000 barrels a day of crude pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said yesterday a mass grave had been found in Bentiu, capital of South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state, amid reports of at least two others in Juba. A UN official who visited the Bentiu site saw 14 bodies in the grave and 20 more at a riverside nearby, while 75 soldiers from the Dinka community are feared dead, Pillay’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said in an e-mail. The UN is working to verify reports of two other graves in Juba.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council expressed “special alarm at the escalation of ethnic mobilization by belligerents.”
South Sudan faces the prospect of “rapidly deteriorating further into ethnic clashes and a full-fledged civil war,” the council said in a statement on its website. The conflict has forced about 100,000 South Sudanese to flee their homes, while about 45,000 civilians are seeking protection at UN camps in the country, according to the UN.
Aid agencies in South Sudan need $166 million now, through March, to provide clean water, shelter, health care and food assistance to people affected by the violence, according to a UN statement.
Troops and police from five other UN peacekeeping missions -- in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Abyei and Darfur areas of Sudan -- will be transferred to South Sudan, according to the UN council’s resolution, which also authorizes Ban to generate “complementary force and asset generation.”
Ban on Dec. 23 recommended sending three attack helicopters, three utility helicopters and one Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130 Hercules transport plane.
The Obama administration has stepped up preparations for a possible evacuation of U.S. personnel from South Sudan by positioning about 150 Marines in nearby Djibouti, Benjamin Benson, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, said in an e-mail yesterday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry phoned South Sudanese leaders to urge them to stop fighting and begin mediated political talks, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Kerry’s envoy, Donald Booth, was in Juba to secure a commitment from Kiir and Machar, Psaki said.
Kiir expressed a willingness to begin talks with Machar “without preconditions, as soon as his counterpart was willing,” Booth said after his Dec. 23 meeting with the president. Machar said in an interview yesterday that he wants the government to free political detainees arrested in the wake of the Dec. 15 attempted coup before he will enter negotiations.
The African Union said the South Sudanese authorities should consider releasing the detainees “in order to facilitate dialog.”
Machar, who is being hunted by government security forces, has demanded that Kiir step down for failing to unite the nation. The two sides have agreed to an offer by neighboring Kenya to host peace talks, Kenyan Foreign Ministry Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho told reporters Dec. 23 in Nairobi.
Rebel forces loyal to Machar said they have captured two states as the government evacuated some oil workers.
Fighters led by General James Kong Chol seized Bentiu and other parts of the northern region on Dec. 21 and have aligned themselves with Machar, Chol said in a phone interview Dec. 22. Kiir’s administration lost control of Bor, capital of Jonglei state, to a group headed by General Peter Gatdet Yak on Dec. 18. Chol and Yak previously headed government forces in the two states.
South Sudan seceded from neighboring Sudan in July 2011 and took three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil output. The landlocked country’s oil provides more than 95 percent of government revenue.
South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data.
--With assistance from David Lerman and Jonathan D. Salant in Washington, Rakteem Katakey in New Delhi, Marco Lui in Tokyo and Eric Ombok in Nairobi. Editors: Steven Komarow, Justin Blum, Paul Richardson