28 December 2013

South Sudan: Fighting Continues in South Sudan Despite Ceasefire

The South Sudanese military and a Ugandan government official say fighting has continued in South Sudan, despite the government agreeing to a ceasefire. UN reinforcements have begun arriving in the country.

A spokesman for South Sudan's military, Col. Philip Aguer, said government forces were repelling attacks in the key oil-producing state of Unity, by forces loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar. President Salva Kiir blames Machar for an attempted coup on December 15, beginning a wave of violence in South Sudan that is estimated to have killed more than 1,000 people.

Ugandan deputy foreign minister Henry Okello also reported that fighting was continuing in several states.

"Fighting is going on right now in the areas around Jonglei and Unity state. We told them to stop fighting and engage in talks but the war is still going on," Okello told the news agency dpa.

It comes after South Sudan's government agreed to a ceasefire against the Machar rebels, following a meeting of East African leaders in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Friday. At the time, the government of South Sudan said on Twitter that it "agreed in principle to a ceasefire to begin immediately, but our forces are prepared to defend themselves if attacked."

UN officials in the country also warned that there was little indication that either side was preparing to halt hostilities, and Machar himself reacted cooly to the offer.

"Until mechanisms for monitoring are established, when one says there is a unilateral ceasefire, there is no way that the other person would be confident that this is a commitment," Machar told the BBC.

As well as a ceasefire, the government offered another olive branch to Machar, releasing a number of senior politicians who were arrested after being accused of plotting the coup against Kiir. The release of the 11 prominent politicians has been a key rebel condition for peace talks.

There have also been concerns the conflict has moved away from being primarily political and has taken on ethnic dimensions, with both Kiir and Machar hailing from rival tribes.

Both sides remain locked in fierce battles for control of several strategic oil-rich areas in South Sudan's north. There have been heavy clashes in Malakal, the capital of the state of Upper Nile, where both government forces allied to Kiir and Machar's rebels on Friday insisted they were in control.

Peacekeeping reinforcements arrive

Meanwhile, dozens of police officers have arrived in South Sudan as part of plans to beef up a UN peacekeeping mission there.

The United Nations said 72 Bangladeshi police officers arrived in South Sudan's capital, Juba, on Friday.

Kieran Dwyer, a UN peacekeeping spokesman said the additional police officers "will play a key role maintaining order and security" at UN compounds in South Sudan, where an estimated 63,000 people have sought refuge since fighting broke out in mid-December.

The Bangladeshis were redeployed from a UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and are the first of a total of 440 extra police officers along with 5,500 additional peacekeepers, whose deployment was approved by the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

South Sudan, the world's youngest country, gained independence from Sudan two-and-a-half years ago as part of a UN-sponsored peace deal, seeking to end a 22-year Sudanese civil war that claimed an estimated 2 million lives.

jr/ccp (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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