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UN Envoy Warns of Election Risks in South Sudan

FILE - Rebel fighters hold up their rifles as they walk in front of a bushfire in a rebel-controlled territory in Upper Nile state, South Sudan Feb. 13, 2014.

The U.N. Special Envoy for South Sudan warned Thursday that the country risks falling deeper into conflict if serious issues are not addressed before planned elections next year.

"There is sporadic fighting and widespread insecurity across the country," Nicholas Haysom told the U.N. Security Council. "Our engagements with South Sudanese interlocutors, including the opposition, suggest that battlefield fortunes continue to inform the calculus of both the government and its opponents."

In May, the government of President Salva Kiir declared a unilateral cease-fire and prisoner release. However, the truce has not held, and military operations have continued in Upper Nile, while there is insecurity in the Equatorias.

FILE - A South Sudanese refugee woman sits with her child at a refugee collection center in Palorinya, Uganda, Feb. 16, 2017.
FILE - A South Sudanese refugee woman sits with her child at a refugee collection center in Palorinya, Uganda, Feb. 16, 2017.

The violence has further exacerbated the already dire humanitarian crisis. Parts of the country have faced famine, while the number of refugees has swelled to more than 2 million — half of them in neighboring Uganda. Another 2 million people are internally displaced.

Haysom said the government of Kiir has only "created an appearance of reconciliation efforts."

"We have made clear to all external and internal stakeholders our view that the prevailing insecurity, internal and external population displacement, the lack of appropriate institutions or a reasonably level political playing field, in an increasingly divided ethnic environment, militate against organizing credible elections within the year. Indeed, it may well contribute to deepening and extending the conflict," Haysom warned.

The special envoy noted that there are five different internal and regional initiatives to address the nearly four-year-old crisis but, so far, none has presented "a definitive answer to the political impasses."

Former Botswana President Festus Mogae, who chairs the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) of the August 2015 peace agreement, told council members that they must speak with one voice to the leaders of South Sudan.

"There should be clear consequences for intransigent groups, spoilers and violators," Mogae said.