Productive South Sudan Talks Amid Ongoing Violence
by VOA News December 26, 2013
African mediators say they have held productive talks with South Sudan President Salva Kiir on ending his country's spiraling unrest.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn were among officials who met with Kiir in the capital, Juba, on Thursday.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom says they discussed a range of issues.
'The issues we discussed were among others: one is cessation of hostilities and the second is the immediate start of talks or dialogue to settle the issue politically, and the third issue is on the detainees who are suspects of the coup.'
Kiir has accused his ex-deputy and political rival, Riek Machar, of masterminding a coup attempt that sparked fierce clashes nearly two weeks ago.
Both men have said they are ready for dialogue, but the government rejected Machar's demand that detained opposition leaders be released first.
Adhanom says the leaders also called for efforts to restore South Sudan's political stability.
'Leaders also have underlined that the unconstitutional means to remove democratically elected government should be condemned, and any solution to this crisis should be through political dialogue and the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] countries,' he said. 'The two leaders who were here will do their best to resolve this problem amicably.'
Violence continued in South Sudan's oil-producing northern region on Thursday as the talks got under way.
The military says government troops are battling forces loyal to Machar in the towns of Bentiu and Malakal.
U.N. officials say more than a thousand people have been killed in the violence, which has pitted Kiir's ethnic Dinkas against the Nuer ethnic group of Machar.
The United Nations says it hopes to begin receiving within the next 48 hours critical reinforcements of military hardware and personnel for its overstretched peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, which is on the verge of civil war.
In a Thursday briefing, U.N. special representative for South Sudan Hilde Johnson urged the country's political leaders to stop violence perpetrated by their forces and give peace a chance.
'It is absolutely fundamental that the leaders of the country and all political forces and communities now put their own identity as South Sudanese first and not their own identity as members of a particular [ethnic] community,' Johnson said. 'It is on that account that this country can move forward out of a situation of violence and strife and on to a peaceful track.'
Johnson also says the unrest has strained U.N. humanitarian resources and that U.N. humanitarian officials are seeking an additional $166 million in aid.
'We are now at over 50,000 civilians in our various compounds in Juba, Bor, Bentiu, Malakal and elsewhere, and their presence is an eloquent testimony to the acute need for enhanced U.N. operations in South Sudan.'
Machar, who is on the run, has not claimed responsibility for a coup attempt but has said the army should remove Kiir from power.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the country's leaders to settle their differences peacefully, and protect civilians from attacks.
On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council voted to send an additional 5,500 peacekeepers to South Sudan.
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called both President Kiir and former vice president Machar, urging them to halt fighting and hold mediated talks.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.
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