PRETORIA, January 02, /ITAR-TASS/. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Thursday, January 2, introduced a state of emergency in two states controlled by rebels led by former deputy president Riek Machar.
The state of emergency was imposed in the states of Jonglei and Unity. On January 1, rebels took Jonglei’s capital of Bor, 200 km of Juba, the capital of the country. They have also been controlling Unity’s capital of Bentiu since December 15, 2013, when the conflict erupted.
The government has admitted that Bor, which has changed hands several times over the two weeks of fighting, has been retaken by the rebels again.
The clashes that started in Juba have since then spread to six of the ten states.
Red Cross said that about 70,000 people in Jonglei were crossing the White Nile in order to get to the neighbouring state of Lakes.
According to the United Nations, about 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan.
The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan urged the government and the insurgents to “make crucial efforts to end the violence,” the United Nations said.
“We call for both parties to use this first day of the new year to take a decisive step for peace,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Hilde Johnson, told journalists in the South Sudanese capital, Juba. “We want to make this day, the day that the fighting stopped.”
According to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African bloc that is mediating the talks, representatives of President Salva Kiir and former deputy president Riek Machar were due to meet on January 1 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Cessation of hostilities, opening humanitarian corridors, the issue of political prisoners, and protection of civilians will form the main agenda of the talks.
“It is a step in the right direction,” Johnson, who also heads the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said, adding that negotiations in Addis Ababa had to be accompanied by a deeper process that focuses on national reconciliation, and reconciliation between the communities which have not healed since South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
“The country is at a crossroads. It’s at the fork in the road,” Johnson said. “But it can still be saved from further major escalations of violence. It is up to the leaders of this country and the two parties.”
Fresh fighting in the world’s newest country erupted on December 15, 2013, when President Kiir said soldiers loyal to Machar, dismissed from office in July of last year, had launched an attempted coup. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lou Nuer, and the conflict has been increasingly marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence, the U.N. said.
Thousands of people are estimated to have died in the violence and some 180,000 others have been driven from their homes, up to 75,000 of them seeking refuge on UNMISS bases, which has been authorised by the U.N. Security Council to almost double its armed strength to nearly 14,000 in an effort to protect civilians.
“We need to do everything to prevent such a cycle of violence between the communities in South Sudan,” Johnson said, stressing that those responsible needed to be brought to account.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocities committed against innocent civilians of different communities by elements from both sides,” she added.
The U.N. Mission has voiced grave concern over mounting evidence of gross human rights abuses in the strife-torn country, including extra-judicial killings of civilians and captured soldiers, massive displacements and arbitrary detentions, often with ethnic undertones.
The U.N. has reminded all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and act in accordance with human rights and humanitarian law, and called on key leaders to send strong public messages to their respective constituencies insisting that the violence must stop, and that anyone disobeying these orders will be punished severely.
Johnson welcomed the African Union’s Peace and Security Council’s decision to establish a commission to investigate human rights violations and other abuses and recommend ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all communities.
International aid agencies will need 166 million U.S. dollars to respond to immediate needs until March, Johnson noted, calling for assistance from donors, the U.N. said.
Meanwhile, delegations of the warring sides have arrived in neighbouring Ethiopia to negotiate a truce.