UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- A top UN official in South Sudan on Thursday called on the country's political leaders to " give peace a chance," and expressed hope for receiving the first peacekeeping reinforcement on the ground within the next 48 hours.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, said over 50,000 civilians have sought refuge at UN bases in the world's youngest country, adding that the nationhood painstakingly built over decades of conflict and strife was at stake.
"I call upon the political leaders of South Sudan to order their forces to lay down their arms and to give peace a chance and to do so urgently," she told reporters via video link, stressing that its ethnic diversity should be a source of strength and unity, not of discord.
The special representative voiced hope that the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) would begin to receive critical peacekeeping reinforcements of both military hardware and personnel on the ground within the next 48 hours, as the mission was overstretched to protect civilians in a conflict that was estimated to have claimed well over 1,000 lives.
"We are in desperate need for improved capacity and strength to be able to implement the mandate (to protect civilians) in a much more proactive way," Johnson said, stressing the need for " unprecedented speed" to bring in additional troops and helicopters.
The UN Security Council on Tuesday authorized a recommendation by the UN chief to reinforce the UNMISS to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police to better protect civilians and assist in humanitarian relief.
Ban has said the additional 5,500 peacekeeping troops and 423 police would be drawn from nearby UN and African Union missions in Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, and the Sudanese regions of Darfur and Abyei.
Tensions within South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 after seceding from Sudan, burst out into open conflict on Dec. 15 when President Salva Kiir's government said soldiers loyal to sacked Vice President Riek Machar launched an attempted coup. The conflict has been increasingly marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence.
Johnson said, "The scale of this crisis has challenged an already overstretched mission."
UNMISS, however, was "maintaining and increasing our footprint across the country," moving available assets to the most volatile areas, she said.
The special envoy also said that fighting was currently going on in Bor, capital of Jonglei state north of Juba, where government forces control the airport and key crossroads.