December 27, 2013

South Sudan government agrees to end hostilities

The announcement is raising hopes for a potential breakthrough in efforts to cease violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country.

By Tom Odula And Jason Straziuso
The Associated Press

JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan's government agreed Friday at a meeting of East African leaders to end hostilities against rebels accused of trying to overthrow the young country, but the cease-fire was quickly thrown into doubt because the head of the rebellion was not invited.

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A displaced boy carries a cardboard box inside a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country, citing the example of the late Nelson Mandela and saying there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in the country where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

click image to enlarge

A displaced boy uses a wheelbarrow to transport belongings inside a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country, citing the example of the late Nelson Mandela and saying there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in the country where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

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An army spokesman suggested the fighting could go on despite the announcement by politicians in a faraway capital.

At the meeting in Kenya, South Sudan agreed not to carry out a planned offensive to recapture Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state, which is controlled by troops loyal to Riek Machar, the former vice president vilified by the government as a corrupt coup plotter.

"We are not moving on Bentiu as long as the rebel forces abide by the cease-fire," said Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan's information minister.

But no one representing Machar was at the Nairobi meeting — a move possibly meant to deny him any elevated status that could also slow the search for peace. And Machar told the BBC that conditions for a truce were not yet in place.

In the field, the military reported no immediate changes in the battle for control of the world's newest country.

Said army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer: "We have not seen any sign of a cease-fire. There is no cease-fire agreed by the two sides," an indication the planned assault on Bentiu could still take place.

Elsewhere, the country's military advanced on the rebel-held town of Malakal early Friday and had taken control of it by noon, Aguer said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced that the first contingent of reinforcements for its peacekeeping force in South Sudan — 72 international police officers from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo — arrived in Juba on Friday.

The Bangladesh police officers will be deployed immediately to help with the internally displaced persons, now numbering approximately 63,000, who are seeking refuge in U.N. compounds throughout South Sudan, the U.N. said.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously last week to temporarily beef up its peacekeeping force in South Sudan from about 8,000 troops and police to nearly 14,000 and send attack helicopters and other equipment to help protect civilians.

Violence erupted Dec. 15 in South Sudan's capital Juba and quickly spread across the country. Ethnic Nuers — the group Machar is from — say they are being targeted by Dinkas, the ethnic group of President Salva Kiir.

The U.N., the South Sudan government and other analysts say the dispute is political at its heart, but has since taken on ethnic overtones.

The 25,000 people — mostly Nuers — sheltering at U.N. camps in Juba fear they would be targeted for death if they leave. Members of the government insist Juba's streets are safe for all.

The fighting has displaced more than 120,000 people and killed more than 1,000.

East African leaders meeting under a bloc called IGAD said in a statement Friday that they "welcomed the commitment" by the South Sudanese government to cease hostilities. The leaders also condemned "all unconstitutional action" to try to topple the government in Juba.

The joint statement urged Machar to make similar commitments to stop fighting. Indeed, the bloc laid bare how one-sided the talks have been so far as it directed its council of ministers to "make contact" with Machar.

The statement said face-to-face talks between the two sides should happen by Tuesday.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Displaced men run a mobile phone charging station enabling others to keep in contact with relatives, inside a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country, citing the example of the late Nelson Mandela and saying there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in the country where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

click image to enlarge

Displaced people bathe and wash clothes in a stream inside a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country, citing the example of the late Nelson Mandela and saying there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in the country where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

click image to enlarge

A young displaced girl carries a basket of laundry inside a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country, citing the example of the late Nelson Mandela and saying there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in the country where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis



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