UN envoy says forces cannot protect civilians in South Sudan's east

UN peacekeepers in Juba during a funeral ceremony for the five Indian peacekeepers killed during an ambush in the eastern region of Jonglei, on April 10, 2013</p>

UN peacekeepers in Juba during a funeral ceremony for the five Indian peacekeepers killed during an ambush in the eastern region of Jonglei, on April 10, 2013

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan lacks the troops and aircraft needed to protect civilians in the nation's violent eastern region, said UN mission chief Hilde Johnson on Monday.

South Sudan, a country roughly the size of France, has only about 200 miles of paved road that 6,560 UN troops must navigate to protect civilians displaced from clashes between rebel and military forces, especially in the Jonglei state.

"We cannot sustain a presence with the logistical capacity that we have, with the problems we have with air transport and by road. So we cannot protect civilians in big, big, big numbers," Johnson told Reuters, adding that she had doubled the number of troops in restive Pibor.

Most of Pibor's 10,000 civilians have escaped from their homes, after security forces looted the area and rebels threatened to attack, according to Reuters.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti during the African Union summit in Ethiopia.

After their meeting Kerry told reporters Sudan and South Sudan "are in a very delicate place," and called for the international community to help both nations focus on "developing the future, not on fighting the issues of the past."

In April, five UN peacekeepers and seven civilians were killed by unidentified gunmen when a UN convoy was ambushed near the settlement of Gumuruk.