The ongoing civil war in South Sudan has resulted in the recruitment of 9,000 child soldiers on both sides of the conflict, the United Nations announced this week. In a special report on the war, UN officials warned that threats of famine could increase the death toll to unfathomable levels in the coming months.
The AFP reports UN officials revealed the data after meeting with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and rebel leader Riek Machar. UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said children were in extreme danger in the nation, both of being recruited to fight in the war and of dying in arbitrary civilian attacks, in which military groups from either side take over and raze villages. Child soldiers were being exposed to “fierce, brutal infantry fighting,” the UN announced, that no child should have to participate in.
Aside from the 9,000 recruited to fight, South Sudan has seen an exodus of 1.2 million people, according to the UN. What’s more, as the summer months approach, the threat of famine over the nation looms even larger as infighting has halted much of the nation’s agricultural work.
Adama Dieng, the UN envoy for the prevention of genocide, vowed on behalf of the organization to “take all possible measures within our power to protect populations from another Rwanda–there is no excuse for inaction.” Dieng’s comments follow threats from the UN to sanction the leaders of both the South Sudanese government and the rebel opposition.
In Ethiopia, talks are set to resume between the government and representatives of the opposition under the mediation of United States Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry arrived there today as the respite in negotiations only escalated violence on the ground. Many believe that Kerry will echo the sentiments of the United Nations; he is expected to attempt to persuade neighboring countries to sanction leaders by denying arms sales to both sides of the conflict. “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,” Kerry told the press upon arriving in Addis Ababa.
Kerry is also encouraging neighboring countries to volunteer peacekeeping troops to help the nation uphold a ceasefire that should have taken place in January, but has since appeared to only escalate the violence. Kerry called intervention “absolutely critical” to preventing the civil war from turning into a genocide. Kerry is expected to visit South Sudan before the end of his visit to Africa on May 5.