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African Union Approves Plan To Put Peacekeeping Force In South Sudan

For its entire five-year existence, the nation of South Sudan has had a U.N. peacekeeping force. In a long-anticipated move, African leaders have now approved a request to send a regional peacekeeping force to the country, as well.

The news emerged from the African Union Summit that was held recently in Kigali, Rwanda. The U.N. force in South Sudan currently numbers around 12,000 troops.

NPR's Gregory Warner reports for our Newscast unit:

"A regional protection force of African troops will have a broader mandate to engage in combat than the U.N. peacekeepers who are stationed in South Sudan. Those peacekeepers are criticized for staying confined to their bases instead of patrolling the streets.

"The AU soldiers will be able to go to where the fighting is happening. But this is also a more politically complex task than the other big A.U. mission to Somalia. There the troops are meant to support the national army. In South Sudan, divided by civil war, the national army has been accused of war crimes, including torture and ethnic massacres.

"The A.U. soldiers have to enter without seeming to take sides. The plan now goes to the U.N. Security Council for approval and a timeline."

Forces loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir have clashed recently with those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar, the former rebel leader who took office in April as part of a peace deal. That new outburst of violence led 30,000 civilians to seek refuge at a base run by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan.

Leslie McTyre, a program coordinator for the International Medical Corps, told NPR last week that the group's hospital received a number of new patients including people with severe trauma, women who had been raped, and others who had been injured or become sick.

"I'm trying to figure out how to get our staff some rest," McTyre told the Goats and Soda blog. "They're working around the clock. They ran out of water two days ago. I don't know what they're doing about that. I finally got a water truck going over there — that should help a bit."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.