South Sudan government ‘agrees to truce’
The lives of tens of thousands of people have been disrupted by the fighting
The government of South Sudan has agreed to an immediate end to fighting with rebels, East African leaders meeting in Nairobi say.
The leaders said they “welcomed the commitment by the government of the Republic of South Sudan to an immediate cessation of hostilities”.
They called on rebel leader Riek Machar to “make similar commitments”.
More than 1,000 people are said to have died in recent fighting in the world’s newest state.
At least 100,000 people have fled their homes, with about 60,000 seeking refuge at UN compounds across the country, according to the UN, which is sending extra peacekeepers.
BBC News, Nairobi
It is worth stating the obvious: a cessation of hostilities will only work if both parties agree to it. That means Igad is putting the squeeze on Riek Machar to cease fighting, including reserving the right to take unspecified “further measures” if this does not happen within four days.
Igad’s communique will be depressing reading for Mr Machar in other ways too. Like Barack Obama last week, the bloc is stressing that South Sudan’s elected government must not be overthrown by force. When you add in the rebels’ loss of the town of Bor, it has been a bad few days for Mr Machar. It was not immediately possible to get a reaction from the former vice-president.
He may be cheered by Igad’s suggestion that the South Sudanese government review the status of the detained political leaders. He wants his political allies freed before he agrees to talks. But even here the language was not as strong as in other parts of the communique. Overall, it seems as if the pressure is now firmly on Machar.
There has been no confirmation from President Salva Kiir’s office that he has agreed to end hostilities, amid reports of heavy fighting at Malakal in oil-rich Upper Nile State.
He is engaged in a deadly power struggle with Mr Machar, his former vice-president. Members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Mr Machar’s Nuer community have both been targeted in the violence.
The violence erupted after President Kiir accused his former vice-president, who was sacked in July, of plotting a coup. The fighting quickly spread to half of Sudan’s 10 states.
East African regional leaders, who make up an eight-member bloc known as Igad, held talks in the Kenyan capital Nairobi a day after the leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia met Mr Kiir in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
They have said they will not accept a violent overthrow of the government in South Sudan and have called on the government and rebels to meet for talks within four days.
Oil town battle
President Kiir did not attend the talks in Nairobi nor, apparently, did any representative of Mr Machar.
Violence has continued through the week with conflicting reports on Friday about the situation in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer told Reuters news agency in Juba that the rebels in Malakal had been defeated. “[Government forces] are 100% in control of Malakal town and are pursuing the forces of the coup,” he said.
But a rebel spokesman in Unity State, Moses Ruai Lat, told AFP “the whole of Malakal” was now in the hands of Machar loyalists. “All those forces who are loyal to the president have been cleared and the former governor of Upper Nile, Simon Kun Poch, is on the run,” he said.
Casualties from the fighting in the town have been “flooding” Malakal’s state hospital, the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday.
In another state, Jonglei, MSF treated gunshot victims who had walked for three days from the war-torn town of Bor in search of safe access to healthcare.
“Even prior to the latest conflict, access to healthcare was limited in South Sudan and the enormous humanitarian needs are only further exacerbated by the current crisis,” the agency added.
Anne Soy reports from Juba: ”Many here are too frightened to venture out of the UN camp”
The fighting is affecting oil production, which accounts for 98% of government revenue.
Calling for an immediate halt to the fighting, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said two peace envoys should be appointed to talk to both sides.
He suggested that one of these could be Gen Lazaro Sumbeiywo, who helped broker the 2005 Sudan peace deal which led to the South’s independence in 2011.
China, which buys most of South Sudan’s oil, has also sent an envoy to the region to try to negotiate an end to the fighting.
The UN Security Council has voted to almost double the number of UN peacekeepers to 12,500.
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a power struggle between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his Nuer ex-deputy Riek Machar. The fear is that the rivalry will spark a widespread ethnic conflict. According to OCHA, 81,000 people have been forced from their homes.