UNITED NATIONS, July 11 (APP): Strongly condemning the escalating violence in the South Sudanese capital of Juba that began on July 7, the UN Security Council joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in calling for an end to the fighting, while separately demanding that President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Reik Machar do their utmost to control their respective forces.

Reading out portions of a statement to the press following a three-hour closed-door emergency session, Ambassador Koro Bessho of Japan, which holds the Council’s presidency for the month, said the body’s 15 members had expressed particular shock and outrage at the attacks on UN compounds and protection of civilians sites in Juba.

The Council’s statement followed similar expressions of outrage by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which both earlier Sunday condemned the violence and urged calm in the wake fresh clashes in Juba between soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition. They also deplored that separately, UN and diplomatic officials have been targeted, as the world’s youngest country on Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of its independence.

South Sudan has seen more fighting than peace since winning independence from Sudan in July 2011. Civil war broke out in December 2013 when President Kiir accused his vice president Machar of plotting a coup.

An August 2015 peace deal was supposed to end the conflict. But the peace process has stalled while fighting has continued despite the establishment of a unity government.

This week’s clashes are the first between the army and former rebels in the capital—where the war broke out—since both established positions there in April as part of the peace agreement.

“The members of the Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and provocations against civilians and the United Nations. They emphasized the need for United Nations [civilian protection] sites and United Nations personnel to remain secure,” the Council President said, while expressing sympathies and condolences to the families of Chinese and Rwandan peacekeepers who were killed or injured in the attacks.

Urging an immediate end to the fighting by all concerned and demanding that President Kiir and First Vice-President Machar do their utmost to control their respective forces, urgently end the fighting and prevent the spread of violence, the Council in its statement also urged the two leaders to “genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire and redeployment of military forces from Juba.”

Further to the statement, the Security Council reminded all parties, including Government security forces, of the civilian character of the protection of civilian sites in South Sudan. As such, Council members stressed that attacks against civilians and UN premises and personnel may constitute war crimes.

They also emphasized the importance of transparent investigations into these crimes and that those involved must be held accountable and could be potentially subject to sanctions as authorized under Council resolution 2206 (2015) for actions that threaten the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.

The Council expressed its support for UNMISS and its readiness to consider enhancing the Mission to better ensure that the UNMISS and the international community can prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan, the President said.

“The members of the Security Council encouraged States in the region to prepare to provide additional troops in the event the Council so decides. In the interim, [the Council] stressed the need for UNMISS to make full use of its authority to use all necessary means to protect civilians,” he concluded.

For his part, the Secretary-General strongly urged the country’s leaders to do everything in their power to de-escalate the hostilities immediately and to order their respective forces to disengage and withdraw to their bases, saying: “This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace

According to the Secretary-General, UN compounds and civilian protection sites in Juba have been caught in the cross-fire. Expressing deep frustration that despite commitments by South Sudan’s leaders, fighting has resumed, Ban said they must take decisive action to regain control of the security situation in Juba.

“[They must also] prevent the spread of violence to other parts of the country; guarantee the safety and security of civilians, United Nations and other personnel; and genuinely commit themselves to the full implementation of the peace agreement,” he stated.