UN in South Sudan sees possible deal but no peace

The UN mission in South Sudan is bracing for ongoing fighting even if a political deal is reached between rival leaders, the new head of mission said Wednesday.

United Nations: The UN mission in South Sudan is bracing for ongoing fighting even if a political deal is reached between rival leaders, the new head of mission said Wednesday.

Danish diplomat Elen Loej, who has been leading the UN mission in South Sudan for six weeks, told reporters that the 10,500-strong force is redeploying, with greater focus on "hotspots", mostly in the north.

"We are preparing for what could happen if there is a political agreement and that political agreement is not fully supported by the military leaders and commanders on the ground," Loej said.

Loej briefed the UN Security Council on her mission and called on the top body and regional leaders to step up pressure on President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar to reach agreement.

A delegation of East African leaders from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda met Kiir in Juba on Wednesday to push for progress toward a deal to end 10 months of war.

But Loej suggested that even a deal between South Sudan`s two most powerful players would not end the violence.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is awaiting reinforcements including from China, which is to send a 700-strong battalion, and from Ethiopia, among other nations.

"There will be more troops in the hotspots area and hopefully that will enable use to better react to what is our core mandate, namely the protection of civilians," she said.

About 100,000 South Sudanese have taken refuge in nine UN bases, fearing they will be killed if they leave.

The fighting was sparked by a political dispute between Kiir and his former vice president Machar, but the unrest has since broadened into an ethnic conflict.

"Even if the two political leaders sign an agreement, a lot of reconciliation work will have to take place on the ground to solve that problem," said Loej. 

A senior UN official warned last week that the end of the rainy season in South Sudan would signal a return to all-out fighting with factions battling for control of oil fields while a major food crisis looms.

The UN mission chief said the humanitarian situation in the country was dire, with 1.8 million people displaced including 450,000 to neighbouring countries.

Around four million people -- close to a third of the population -- are facing a food crisis.