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South Sudan crisis talks "constructive"

Fri, 27th Dec 2013 06:28

Juba (Alliance News) - The crisis talks between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia aimed at stopping the violence in the world's youngest nation have been "constructive," the Ethiopian government said Thursday.

Kiir held a closed door meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn who had come to the capital, Juba, to try to mediate a resolution to the conflict that has left hundreds of people dead since last week.

"The meeting was very constructive and candid," Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Abodon told journalists at the presidential palace after the meeting.

However, Kiir's rival, former vice president Riek Machar, was not part of the talks.

Machar has been in hiding since his rebel forces captured oil-producing regions along the border with Sudan.

The discussions included the cessation of hostilities, the humanitarian crisis caused by the violence and possibilities for a political dialogue with Machar, according to Tedros.

Meanwhile, Machar speaking from an unknown location told local newspaper Sudan Tribune that he was ready to initiate a dialogue with Kiir, who fired him from his government post in July, if various conditions were met.

Machar said he wanted the talks to take place in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and submitted a list of delegates to a group of East African mediators.

The head of Machar's delegation would be former Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) secretary general Pagan Amum Okiech as well as other senior party leaders who are currently imprisoned in Juba.

Machar is also demanding that Kiir step down, accusing him of being dictatorial.

Kiir has expressed a willingness to negotiate an end to the fighting and to enter talks unconditionally.

At least three of the country's 10 states have witnessed violence and the conflict has taken on ethnic dimensions. Kiir is a Dinka, the largest group in South Sudan, and Machar is from the Nuer people.

There have been growing tensions in the ruling party - the former rebel group (SPLM) - since the nation became independent two-and-a-half years ago.

An intensifying power struggle between Kiir, who has a military background with little formal education, and Machar, who has a doctorate from Britain, peaked when key politicians challenged Kiir's candidacy for the 2015 elections.

That Kiir and Machar come from different ethnic groups and regions within South Sudan caused further political ruptures.

The violence quickly spread to several other states, with fighting being particularly intense in Central Equatoria, Jonglei and Unity states, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

At least 92,500 people had been displaced since the conflict began on December 15, while some 58,000 people sought shelter at UN peacekeeping bases throughout the country.

Neighbouring Uganda received more than 7,000 South Sudanese refugees since last week, the Red Cross said Thursday.

Thousands more displaced people were expected to arrive in the next few days in Uganda's north-western districts of Moyo, Arua, Koboko and Adjumani, where temporary camps have been set up, the aid organization said.

Many of the refugees were ill and in need of urgent assistance after walking hundreds of kilometres to the border, said Ken Odur, the secretary general of the Uganda Red Cross.

"Most of the refugees are injured from walking long distances," Odur said. "We have set up camps for them and are providing non-food items, including medicine, shelter kits and utensils."

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday to nearly double its peacekeeping force in South Sudan, adding 5,500 soldiers to the 7,000 already in the country. An additional 1,300 civilian police are to join the mission.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a video and radio message Wednesday vowing the United Nations would stand with the people of South Sudan and pointing to the targeting of civilians based on ethnicity as a "grave violation of human rights."

The EU was sending special envoy Alexander Rondos to South Sudan to support a political solution to the conflict, said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Copyright dpa

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