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South Sudan ready for new U.N. force deployment any time: cabinet

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s government has said it is ready to accept the deployment of a U.N. regional protection force at any time, after fighting in the capital in July threatened to plunge the nation back into a full-scale civil war.

South Sudan has been under international pressure to accept the force, which will help the existing U.N. mission UNMISS stabilize the five-year-old nation, where civil conflict erupted in December 2013 and a peace deal in 2015 failed to stick.

President Salva Kiir consented in principle to the protection force in September, but officials said at the time that details still needed to be worked out.

Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit told Reuters the cabinet agreed on outstanding issues in a ministerial meeting on Friday, although he did not list the specifics.

One expert who has been following the process said the outstanding matters to be resolved were the nationality and number of soldiers, type of weaponry and precise role of the new force, which will strengthen the existing U.N. mission UNMISS.

“We have agreed without precondition because the resolution is clear and we want the country to move forward,” he said by telephone. “So our committee is going to finalize the deployment process.”

After deadly violence in Juba in mid-July between Kiir’s troops and soldiers backing his rival Riek Machar, the Security Council authorized a 4,000-strong regional protection force to join the 12,000-strong UNMISS force.

The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), a body of international officials and experts set up in 2015 to monitor the shaky peace deal, welcomed the cabinet’s decision and said the deployment could start with “immediate effect”.

Citing South Sudanese Cabinet Affairs Minister Lomuro Minister, JMEC said “all outstanding issues” related to the deployment had been resolved with the United Nations.

South Sudan, a small oil producer that remains one of the world’s poorest nations, gained independence from Sudan in 2011. But its slide into conflict has left many of the nation’s 11 million people struggling to find enough food.

Additional reporting and writing by Edmund Blair