Reuters International

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said on Thursday it was concerned that members of civil rights groups in the country were being harassed for speaking to U.N. Security Council diplomats who visited this week.

Fierce fighting in the capital between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar in July raised fears that the five-year-old nation could slide back into civil war, wrecking a peace deal signed last year.

It prompted the United Nations to authorise the deployment of the additional U.N. troops to bolster the 12,000-strong U.N. mission there.

Diplomats from the 15-member Security Council visited South Sudan this week and last, and the government agreed to accept 4,000 extra peacekeepers in a bid to avoid an arms embargo threatened by the council.

They also met displaced civilians, religious leaders and members of civil society groups, who urged deployment of the extra foreign troops, even as government ministers questioned whether more peacekeepers were needed in the capital, Juba.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) said after the meetings it had received reports that some of the people who met the diplomats had received threats and being harassed.

"Any attempt to suppress these rights through threats and harassment must be condemned in no uncertain terms," it said in a statement.

Government officials could not immmediately be reached for comment.

Civil war first erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, sparked by a longtime political rivalry between Kiir and Machar. Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced by the conflict.

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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