South Sudan warns over ceasefire rejection
Olive branch offered to rebels, eight out of 11 detained politicians to be released
South Korean soldiers provide water at a refugee camp in South Sudan this week. Hundreds of South Korean soldiers are stationed in Bor, 170 kilometers south of the South Sudanese capital of Juba, as part of United Nations peacekeeping forces there.
South Sudan troops will attack the main stronghold of rebel forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar if the government’s offer of a ceasefire is rejected, a senior minister said today.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in two weeks of ethnic clashes that threaten to turn into a full-blown civil war in the world’s youngest country. Refugees sheltering in UN camps spoke of atrocities committed by both main ethnic groups.
President Salva Kiir’s government offered an olive branch to the rebels yesterday, proposing a ceasefire and saying it would release eight of 11 senior politicians, widely seen to be Machar allies, arrested over an alleged coup plot against Mr Kiir.
But Mr Kiir’s former deputy Mr Machar reacted coolly to the truce offer, telling the BBC that any ceasefire needed to be credible and properly enforced for him to take it seriously.
“Until mechanisms for monitoring are established, when one says there is a unilateral ceasefire, there is no way the other person would be confident this is a commitment,” Mr Machar said.
Fighting between rival groups of soldiers erupted in the capital Juba on December 15th, then triggered clashes in half of South Sudan’s 10 states - often along ethnic lines, between Mr Machar’s group, the Nuer, and President Salva Kiir’s Dinka.
The release of eight of the 11 people detained in the aftermath of the fighting suggests South Sudan’s government may have softened its stance over who is to blame. “It’s my expectation . . . that once released, they [the eight] will participate in a constructive manner in the efforts to bring about peace . . . and resolve the political issues that sparked this conflict,” US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth said yesterday.
However, it may not be enough to satisfy Mr Machar, who demanded all 11 be released as a condition for negotiations.
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the authorities would continue to hold three of the most prominent figures – ex-finance minister Kosti Manibe, ex-cabinet affairs minister Deng Alor and the former secretary general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Pagan Amum.
Two of the eight were already free, Mr Ateny added.
President Kiir’s hand was strengthened earlier in the day when South Sudan’s neighbours threw their weight behind him, saying they would not accept any bid to oust him.
Addressing a special summit of Igad, the Inter Governmental Authority on Development, an east African regional body, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta urged Mr Kiir and Mr Machar to seize “the small window of opportunity” and start peace talks.
“Let it be known that we in Igad will not accept the unconstitutional overthrow of a duly and democratically elected government in South Sudan,” Mr Kenyatta said. “Violence has never provided optimum solutions.”
The army said it had regained control of Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state, a territory that supplies all of South Sudan’s crude oil.
Mr Kiir sacked Mr Machar as vice-president in July and accused him of trying to start a coup when the fighting between rival groups of soldiers started in Juba. Mr Machar denied the charge, although he acknowledged he was leading soldiers fighting the government in the days that followed.
The Igad leaders said peace talks should start by December 31st. The United Nations, which is sending extra peacekeepers to South Sudan, said about 121,600 people had been displaced during the 13 days of fighting, including 63,000 civilians who had sought refuge in its bases. Well over 1,000 people had already been killed, according to the head of the UN mission in Sudan.