South Sudan peace talks face delay as gun clashes take place in capital

Juba residents on edge amid rumours of rebel advance on city

Grang Demebiar (centre), son of late Sudanese politician John Garang, at the opening of South Sudan’s negotiations in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa on Saturday. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Grang Demebiar (centre), son of late Sudanese politician John Garang, at the opening of South Sudan’s negotiations in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa on Saturday. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 01:00

Gunshots rang out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, for about an hour yesterday as peace talks between rebels and the government to hammer out a ceasefire deal faced further delay in neighbouring Ethiopia.

The gunfire came from the direction of the military headquarters of the SPLA government forces, towards the northern outskirts of the city. It was not clear who was involved.

Three weeks of fighting, which began in Juba but spread beyond, often along ethnic faultlines, have killed more than a thousand people, forced a cut in oil output and left the world’s newest state on the brink of civil war. Juba has been largely calm since the early clashes.

“I saw a truck full of soldiers going along the Bilpam road. They were singing. About 20 minutes later the shooting started and people started running towards town,” said Animu Afekuru, who lives in the neighbourhood.

Western and regional powers, many of which supported the negotiations that led to South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011, are pressing for a peace deal, fearing the fighting could destabilise east Africa. The unrest pits President Salva Kiir’s SPLA government forces against rebels loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar. Both warring factions have said they want peace and are committed to a ceasefire though neither has indicated when they would lay down weapons.


Rebel advances
But there is widespread scepticism in Juba, where residents are on edge amid rumours of a rebel advance on the city that lies on the banks of the White Nile. “I fear for our country in the coming days,” said 19-year-old Nyathok Khat. “The politicians don’t care about the suffering of the people.”Fighting also erupted outside the flashpoint town of Bor, capital of vast Jonglei state which has untapped oil reserves.

US secretary of state John Kerry voiced his support for the Addis Ababa peace talks and warned against the use of force by either side. Rebel and government negotiators were to sit down yesterday. But the rebel delegation and a western diplomat said in late evening there would be no meeting that day.

Mr Kiir blamed his rival, whom he sacked in July, for starting the fighting in a bid to seize power. Mr Machar dismissed the allegation but he has acknowledged leading soldiers battling the government.

A stumbling block is what should happen to a number of political detainees allied to Mr Machar. – (Reuters)