ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The United States urged eastern African nations on Thursday to quickly send enough peacekeeping forces to South Sudan to quell nearly six months of deadly violence between ethnic groups.
Foreign ministers from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda said they agreed that aggressive steps are needed. But they offered no details, and have for months been undecided on how best to respond to massacres and other horrific killings in the world's newest nation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it "absolutely critical" that African troops confront the deadly conflicts across the continent, including South Sudan. He told a gathering of African Union commissioners in the Ethiopian capital that the U.S. would work with the United Nations to support a peacekeeping force, or "a peacemaking force, in some cases."
"There are too many nations that risk falling into broad-based violence or remain embroiled in too much bloodshed," Kerry told the AU commissioners.
U.S. officials have estimated at least 5,000 troops are necessary for the increasingly bloody mission in South Sudan, where fighting broke out last December after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, of staging a coup.
But officials said African nations have been divided on deploying troops, including some that are reluctant to be part of a U.N. mission. Uganda already has troops inside South Sudan in support of the Juba government, but that has raised regional concerns since both sides of the conflict are accused of killing civilians. The U.S. has said it wants Uganda to withdraw from South Sudan.
Following a separate meeting with Kerry, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said diplomats agreed that a peacekeeping force needed to be deployed soon. "There is an agreement that we have to be as aggressive as possible in order to have an impact on the ground in South Sudan," Adhanom told reporters with Kerry and foreign ministers from Kenya and Uganda.
Kerry said the four diplomats agreed on how large the force would be, when it would be deployed, and how it would be used — but rushed out of the short photo opportunity before revealing any details. He was expected to deliver more information at a press conference set for Thursday afternoon in Addis Ababa.
He is expected to briefly visit South Sudan during his trip to Africa, which ends May 5.
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