By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 26, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in the South Sudan capital, Juba, on Thursday in an attempt to mediate between the government members of the ruling party and army who have defected.
- Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn (L), South Sudan’s Salva Kiir (C) and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta at a meeting in Juba on 25 December 2013 (Photo: Reuters/James Akena)
The two leaders concluded their first round of talks with president Salva Kiir later the same day, but the consultations, which are part of regional efforts to resolve the conflict in South Sudan, are due to continue in the coming days.
Following the first talks, Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom told reporters that the leaders condemned any attempt to remove the democratically elected government as unconstitutional, saying political disputes should be resolved through dialogue.
Kiir, who ordered the arrest of several prominent figures with South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), has accused his political opponents of staging a coup attempt.
Desalegn is believed to have visited the 11 senior members of the SPLM who have been detained in Juba in connection with the alleged coup attempt.
“IGAD member states and the two leaders [of Ethiopia and Kenya] will do their level best to resolve the crises amicably”, he said.
South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei Lueth, said on Thursday that world leaders have urged for dialogue and an immediate end to the violence, in which thousands are feared to have been killed.
The United States, Norway and Ethiopia are leading efforts to open peace talks between Kiir and his political rivals. Kiir said in a Christmas address that he is willing to engage in “dialogue” with all his opponents.
Lueth said the government has not yet established formal contact with former vice-president Riek Machar, who has been accused of leading the alleged coup plot.
“For us, we are not talking with him”, Lueth said, referring to Machar, whose whereabouts remains unknown.
Government troops are trying to retake control of Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, from forces loyal to Machar, while fighting was reported overnight in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, according to Lueth.
Upper Nile and Unity are the country’s key oil-producing states, with South Sudan relying on oil revenues for nearly 98 percent of its budget.
Although Juba is now calm, fighting appears to be spreading across the country, stretching the limits of humanitarian workers and aid agencies.
Desalegn, who also is the chairperson of the African Union (AU) and East African regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is also expected to review the implementation of the peace proposal forwarded by IGAD foreign ministers during his stay in Juba.
“Given its peacekeeping and peace-making role in the Horn of Africa region and being the current chair of the African Union, Ethiopia is believed to play a key role in bringing together the parties to the conflict in South Sudan”, Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
The UN says some 1,000 people have died in violence, although that figure is expected to rise as conflict continues to escalate in different regions across the country.
Over 60,000 people have sheltered at UN bases and more than 92,000 have fled their homes, seeking refuge from the ongoing fighting between the army and forces loyal to Machar, who was removed from his post in July.
Machar has announced that he is sending his negotiating team to Addis Ababa for peace talks with representatives of Kiir.
AU, IGAD URGE CEASEFIRE
Meanwhile, as East African leaders head to Juba to mediate peace talks, both the AU and IGAD have renewed calls for an immediate ceasefire amid fears of a full-scale civil war.
In a joint statement, Desalegn and the chairperson of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have also reiterated calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in South Sudan, urging the two warring parties to engage in dialogue.
“The AU and IGAD are profoundly concerned by reports of the mobilisation of tribal militias in South Sudan, which threaten to further escalate the conflict and transform it into an exceptionally destructive inter-ethnic violence that would put in danger the very existence of South Sudan”, the statement said.
The joint statement said all South Sudanese stakeholders needed to be fully aware of the perils of ongoing violence and their responsibilities to save their two-year-old state from descending into chaos.
Desalegn and Dlamini-Zuma also urged both Kiir and Machar to act with a sense of patriotism and responsibility for the entire South Sudanese community.
“The AU and IGAD reiterate the urgent imperative of an inclusive dialogue among all concerned stakeholders based on the rejection of the use of force, respect for human rights and dignity, the rule of law and constitutional legality, and their readiness to facilitate such a dialogue”, the statement added.
Following talks with Kiir, Desalegn left for Kenya for further consultations with IGAD members on ways of finding an all-inclusive solution to the political crisis facing South Sudan.
While in Nairobi, Desalegn and other IGAD members are also expected to consult on how a peace proposal presented by IGAD foreign ministers could be implemented by the two sides, ahead of Kiir and Machar’s representatives meeting in Addis Ababa.
The United Nations is currently investigating reports of mass killings in South Sudan, as the country’s top UN humanitarian official, Toby Lanzer, said on Monday that he believed the death toll has surpassed 1,000.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously to beef up its peacekeeping force in South Sudan on 24 December. It condemned targeted violence against civilians and ethnic communities and called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate opening of a dialogue.”
South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 following a 2005 peace deal, which ended a more than two-decade-long civil war with Sudan. The country remains the world’s least developed, and has continued to suffer from cyclical tribal clashes over cattle and land disputes since its secession from the north.
The UN says that an additional $166 million is needed between now and March next year to save lives amid continuing violence.
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