South Sudan government to review U.N. decision on extra troops

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan said on Sunday it would consider the U.N.’s decision to authorize sending extra troops to the country following an eruption of fierce fighting, softening its stance after initially rejecting the initiative.

The U.N. Security Council voted to authorize an extra 4,000 troops on Friday, drawing a swift response from South Sudan’s presidential spokesman who said the government would oppose the move, calling it a bid by the United Nations to take over the country.

The U.N. decision followed several days of fierce fighting in the capital Juba last month that raised fears of a slide back into civil war after more than two years of conflict in the world’s youngest nation, which gained independence in 2011.

“After lengthy deliberation of the document (U.N. resolution), it is clear that this document has some pros and cons,” Information Minister Michael Makuei told a news conference after an emergency cabinet meeting on the issue.

“It is decided that this process be taken to the executive and then parliament so that ... a decision (is) taken by the whole government,” he said without giving a timeframe.

The extra U.N. troops, described as a protection force that has the backing of regional African nations, will fall under the command of the existing 12,000-strong U.N. mission UNMISS.

The U.N. resolution had threatened an arms embargo if South Sudan did not cooperate.

Sunday’s meeting followed another flare-up of fighting southwest of the capital on Saturday between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and opposition troops, led by his former deputy Riek Machar. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

Steven Lodu Onseimo, the information minister for Yei region where Saturday’s clashes took place, told Reuters two civilians and a soldier were killed but said the area was calm on Sunday.

Witnesses had reported heavy gunfire around Yei, which lies on a road linking Juba with neighboring Uganda.

Longstanding political differences between Kiir and Machar first erupted into conflict in late 2013. They signed a peace deal in August 2015, but sporadic fighting continued.

Machar had recently returned to Juba to resume his role as deputy again when the July clashes in Juba flared. Machar then withdrew with his forces from the capital.

Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Fenton