South Sudan: Australian military aircraft to assist UN efforts to stop bloodshed
Australia is preparing to send two military aircraft to South Sudan to help the United Nations respond to the deadly crisis in the country.
The UN says 10 days of violent fighting in the area has left thousands of people dead and forced another 80,000 to leave their homes.
In an effort to end the ethnic bloodshed, it is redeploying troops from other African missions to urgently double its peacekeeping presence in South Sudan.
The Federal Government has offered a C-17 Globemaster and a Hercules to help transport personnel and equipment, and also assist with evacuations.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss says the aircraft are expected to be deployed to South Sudan for a couple of weeks.
"Our authorisation is for a period of two weeks after the request has been received or approved and accepted by the United Nations," he said.
"We anticipate that the task will be mainly to take advantage of the heavy-lift capabilities, to move these additional personnel into Sudan and reposition those who are in danger now as a result of this outbreak of further hostilities.
"Australia has particular skills and is well equipped in that regard. This is a task we've undertaken before and we're confident it can be done well."
The UN mission in South Sudan has been in place since July, aiming to support the world's youngest nation.
The recent fighting erupted after president Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar, who was fired from the government in July, of attempting a coup.
Mr Machar denied the claim and accused Kiir of carrying out a vicious purge of his rivals.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said extra peacekeepers alone will not end the violence and a political solution is needed.
Speaking from the rebel-held town of Bentiu, UN humanitarian co-ordinator Toby Lanzer says the next few days are crucial.
"The single most important thing that everybody can do, and I know that leaders in the region are engaged and various organisations, including of course my own, are very engaged in discussions that are trying to bring the key leaders together," he said.
"I think the next few days are absolutely crucial to the civilians and the people in this country."
Truss urges Australians to leave South Sudan
Mr Truss says at this stage, the Australian Government is not considering sending extra troops into the area.
"We haven't been requested by the United Nations to provide anything other than this air-lift capacity," he said.
"We've had no request for additional personnel and therefore we're not considering any other commitments."
Mr Truss says more than 200 Australians have already left the country and he is urging any remaining citizens to do the same.
"We have reason to believe there are 500 to 1,000 additional people, mainly dual nationals, who have not registered with Australian embassies and therefore their presence and activities in Sudan are not especially known," he said.
"There are commercial services available at the present time so people are able to make their own way out.
"I'm told that that's relatively stable and so there is an opportunity for Australians to leave and they should take their own initiative to do so to secure their own safety."