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PRETORIA, January 23, 23:56 /ITAR-TASS/. The head of the South Sudanese government delegation to the talks with insurgents on Thursday, January 23, confirmed that a ceasefire agreement had been signed but noted that it would be hard to implement it.
Peace talks between the supporters of President Salva Kiir and insurgents led by former deputy president Riek Machar have been going on in the Ethiopian capital for five weeks. The ceasefire agreement is the first real step towards peace, but Kiir continues to refuse to release arrested supporters of Machar as demanded by the rebels, who said their release would be their main task to fulfill during the truce.
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 clashes that started in Juba have since then spread to six of the ten states.
According to the United Nations, about 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan, including about 65,000 at the UNMISS bases. A further 42,800 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — 32,000 of them in Uganda alone.
Humanitarian organisations report that about 10,000 people have been killed.
The United Nations has released 15 million U.S. dollars from its humanitarian rapid response fund for critical relief operations in South Sudan, where over 230,000 people have been driven from their homes since fighting erupted between government and opposition forces nearly a month ago.
Since the country gained independence in July 2011, aid agencies have received over 74 million U.S. dollars from CERF for critical assistance, including food, clean water, shelter and health services.