PRETORIA, January 04, 23:45 /ITAR-TASS/. The government of South Sudan and rebels will begin direct talks in the capital of Ethiopia on Sunday afternoon, January 5, Reuters reported on Saturday.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti said the talks would start at 15:00 (16:00 Moscow time).
South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth and rebels’ delegate Yohanis Musa said the sides had made a pause to coordinate the agenda of the talks that were initially expected to start on January 4.
Both delegations, which are staying in the same hotel in the Ethiopian capital, have conducted consultations through intermediaries. Media reports assess them as generally successful even through some of the key issues remain unresolved.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the BBC that the rebels have to admit they attempted to stage a coup in South Sudan.
The rebels’ delegation, in turn, has put forth a number of demands, with an immediate truce way down at the bottom of the list.
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.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on 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 security situation in South Sudan remains “fluid,” the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS) said on January 4, confirming that it is sending reinforcements to areas affected by the current fighting between pro- and anti-government troops, particularly Bor, Malakal, Bentiu and Juba.
“This is critical to enable the Mission to deliver on its mandate to protect civilians,” UNMISS said. It specified that thousands of additional police, military, logistics support and selected civilian staff are being relocated to the affected areas, per the Security Council's authorisation.
UNMISS said that two stand-by police components known as Formed Police Units have been deployed to strengthen security and order for civilians on UN compounds. A medical team from the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) arrived yesterday in Juba to bolster support at the UN Juba bases. Logistical support for air operations is being provided by the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO.
More aircraft are arriving this week to assist with transport of essential supplies to troops and civilians, the Mission confirmed. They will be followed by additional police from Nepal, and later also troop reinforcements.
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.”
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.”
UN officials have repeatedly called for a cessation of violence and a political solution to the conflict, including accountability for grave human rights violations.
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.
According to UNMISS, nearly 100 million U.S. dollars have been raised in the past 72 hours to bring in additional supplies and staff to respond to the evolving situation.
Humanitarian partners in the country had issued a 166 million U.S. dollar plan to assist some 628,000 people over the next three months. It includes provision of protection, water, food, shelter and healthcare. It also aims to help those that have left Sudan and sought refuge in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states.