* U.S. wants peacekeepers on the ground to stop killings
* The fighting has exacerbated ethnic tensions
* Many thousands killed, more than 1 million have fled homes
(Adds Security Council meeting, Kerry quote, background;
paragraphs 8-10, 15)
By Phil Stewart and Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, May 1 The conflict in South Sudan
could descend into genocide, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
warned on Thursday as he renewed threats of sanctions and raised
hope that more peacekeeping forces could be deployed swiftly to
halt the bloodshed.
Kerry, emerging from talks about the increasingly ethnic
slaughter in South Sudan with foreign ministers from neighboring
Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, said all sides agreed the "killing
"A legitimate force that has an ability to help make peace
needs to get on the ground as rapidly as possible," Kerry said
in Addis Ababa at the start of an African trip.
Addressing reporters later, Kerry said the goal was that "in
these next days, literally, we can move more rapidly to put
people on the ground who could begin to make a difference."
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said all sides
stressed the need for deployment of a force "as soon as
A spokeswoman said Kerry was referring to regional forces
under the authority of the United Nations which already has a
mission in South Sudan. Kerry said he and his African
counterparts agreed on "the terms and timing and manner and
size" of such a force but declined to offer details.
"The greatest single difference will be moving rapidly with
U.N. Security Council imprimatur of support to get forces on the
ground who could begin to separate people and provide safety and
security. That's imperative," he told reporters.
The U.N. Security Council on Dec. 24 approved a proposal to
nearly double the strength of the U.N. mission in South Sudan,
known as UNMISS, to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police from its
previous size of 7,000 troops and 900 police.
But fewer than half of those additional peacekeepers have
arrived. They are to be drawn from nearby U.N. and African Union
missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast,
Liberia, and the Sudanese regions of Darfur and Abyei.
The Security Council is planning to discuss the South Sudan
conflict on Friday, U.N. diplomats said. Members of the
15-nation body are already considering the possibility of U.N.
sanctions on South Sudan's warring parties.
More than 1 million people have fled their homes and
thousands have been killed since fighting erupted in the
oil-producing country in December between troops backing
President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked deputy,
RISK OF GENOCIDE
Negotiations between the Kiir government and rebels loyal to
Machar have failed to advance since the Jan. 23 signing of a
ceasefire that never took hold in the world's newest country.
Asked about the risk of genocide, Kerry said "very
disturbing, leading indicators of the kind of ethnic, tribal,
targeted nationalistic killings" raised troubling questions.
"Were they to continue in the way that they have been going
(they) could really present a very serious challenge to the
international community with respect to the question of
genocide," he told reporters without elaborating.
The fighting has exacerbated ethnic tensions between Kiir's
Dinka people and Machar's Nuer. Kerry lamented violence on both
sides and called upon Kiir and Machar to publicly "condemn the
brutal attacks that are taking place against innocent people."
Delegations from two sides of the South Sudan conflict
resumed face-to-face discussions in Addis Ababa on Thursday
after several delays, officials said.
A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters
traveling with Kerry ahead of the trip, said regional powers
were losing patience with the inability of the two sides in
South Sudan to move forward with peace efforts.
"I think both sides think that they can win this militarily,
and they have certainly not participated in any committed way to
finding a negotiated settlement for the conflict," the official
said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kerry renewed U.S. threats of sanctions and said regional
partners Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia "accepted the responsibility
for also doing sanctions."
Many South Sudanese own property in the three neighboring
countries and regularly travel there, the State Department
President Barack Obama last month authorized possible
targeted sanctions against those committing human rights abuses
in South Sudan or undermining democracy and obstructing the
Still, Kerry held out hope that talks might sway the course
of events in South Sudan, and pointed to Kiir's decision last
week to release four political prisoners.
"We are hoping that now opens up the possibility of a
mediation and dialogue that could take place anywhere in the
next few days," he said.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing
by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)