JUBA, South Sudan — A week after political tensions between South Sudan’s leaders erupted into clashes, the crisis has broadened into a societal conflict in which ethnic divisions are fueling the violence and civilians are often the target of the fighting.
More than 7,000 peacekeepers are already in South Sudan.
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to increase the number by more than 5,000, redeploying them from missions in other African countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo as soon as possible. The council also increased the size of an 800-member U.N. police force in South Sudan by more than 400.
“The world is watching, and the world is acting,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
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The vote came hours after Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said officials had “discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity State, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba.”
In July 2011, Sudan’s mostly Christian and animist south seceded peacefully from the Arab, Muslim north after decades of civil war, creating South Sudan. Analysts cite that as a notable achievement of President Obama’s first term, and the new country has been lavished with international aid and investment to help establish itself.
But South Sudan also has been plagued by corruption and ethnic tension, which burst into the open after President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, fired his vice president, Riek Machar, in July.
Kiir accused Machar, a member of the Lou Nuer tribe, of plotting a coup. Machar denied planning a coup and demands that Kiir step down.
Fighting spread this month to half of South Sudan’s 10 states and threatened to shut down oil production, on which the country depends for 98 percent of its revenue.
Four U.S. servicemen were wounded Saturday when militias fired on military aircraft on a mission to evacuate American citizens.
The United States, Norway and Ethiopia were leading efforts to get the two sides to stop fighting and negotiate.
But some U.N. officials have expressed fear that ethnic-based militias in some parts of the country are already out of control.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said last week she visited the Central African Republic, a neighbor of South Sudan that is being torn apart by sectarian violence, but analysts said South Sudan is a higher priority for Washington.
South Sudan’s cause has been popular in Washington, in part because of the brutality of the government in Khartoum, Sudan. The civil war with the south claimed an estimated 2 million lives.
Separately, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in the Darfur region of western Sudan.