"What we are witnessing on the ground is a continuation of the fighting to consolidate positions before the beginning of the transition," UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council.
Ladsous made clear that the peace effort was ultimately in the hands of South Sudan’s leaders.
"No amount of troops or police can replace the political will required of the leaders of South Sudan to bring an end to their conflict," he said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has nonetheless asked for 500 extra troops and 600 police, along with helicopters and drones, to help Unmiss (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) monitor the ceasefire.
South Sudan's ambassador to the UN, Francis Deng, appeared on Wednesday to downplay the severity of the fighting, dismissing reports of ceasefire violations as mere “allegations.”
The nearly 180,000 people who have found shelter in UN bases since political and ethnic clashes broke out two years ago should be encouraged to return home, he told the Security Council.
“There is reason to believe that all are interested in ending the violence and rebuilding the nation, united rather than divided by what should be enriching diversity,” Deng said.
Some observers have expressed doubts that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the SPLM In Opposition have the political will to find a lasting peace solution.
Ladsous noted that implementation of the Juba deal is only progressing “slowly and with serious difficulties”.
“There have been delays, however I think the parties are trying to advance,” explained Itonde Kakoma, an Arusha-based analyst with Crisis Management Initiative, a conflict-resolution group. “One of the greatest challenges facing South Sudan is that the same individuals who took up arms against one another are the same individuals who will be responsible for leading the transitional government, which will ultimately require them to work together.”
There are fears that tensions could worsen an already dire humanitarian situation if fighting continues.
More than a million people have been displaced by the violence and almost 4 million are already facing severe food shortages.
Food security outlook for January, February and March is “extremely worrying,” noted Alison Martin, a South Sudan-based Oxfam official.
“There is a chance the food security situation could deteriorate in areas where fighting is ongoing,” she said in a phone interview from Juba. “Unless the fighting urgently stops the situation of people who are already facing severe food security, people who are already hungry, may still deteriorate."
Sanctions targeting those who hamper the peace process have been discussed at the UN.
But the Security Council has reportedly been split on the issue with some countries like Angola and Russia arguing that such measures could undermine the meagre progress made so far.
The SPLM-IO, led by former Vice-President Riek Machar, has recently accused the SPLM, led by President Salva Kiir, of violating the peace agreement by dividing South Sudan’s 10 states in 28 new entities – a move the opposition says is unconstitutional.
The opposition has asked regional bloc Igad (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) and an international troika (United States, Norway and United Kingdom) to put pressure on president Kiir to reverse his stand on this issue.
A regional peace summit of East African leaders, which was scheduled to take place last month in Juba, has been postponed over this.
Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011