30 December 2013

East Africa: Ceasefire Deadline Approaches in South Sudan Conflict

Uganda's president says East African nations would defeat rebel forces in South Sudan if a ceasefire offer which expires on Tuesday is rejected. Ethnic battles in South Sudan threaten to broaden into a regional conflict.

The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said on Monday that if South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar did not accept a ceasefire deal by Tuesday, east African nations were prepared to move in.

"We gave Riek Machar four days to respond [to the ceasefire offer] and if he doesn't we shall have to go for him, all of us. That is what we agreed in Nairobi," Museveni told reporters, referring to an earlier regional crisis meeting held in Kenya on Friday. When asked what that meant, he replied "to defeat him."

Museveni was among regional leaders from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to meet with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, in the country's capital Juba on Monday.

At least 1,000 people have been killed and 180,000 displaced in the world's newest nation since mid-December when fighting broke out between supporters of Kiir and supporters of Machar , the country's former vice president who was sacked last summer.

Kiir accuses Machar of sparking the conflict by trying to topple him in a coup on December 15, which Machar denies. The rivalry between the men has revived ethnic tensions between Kirr's Dinka clan and Machar's Nuer clan.

Fears of escalation

The United Nations, which pledged to almost double its presence in South Sudan to about 12,500 troops, has expressed concern over claims that thousands of Nuer youths were advancing to attack Bor, which is the capital of Jonglei state. The fighters are known as the "White Army" for the white ash they spread on their skin to protect themselves from insects.

"The forces of Riek Machar are now advancing on Bor, but we are confident we will hold them off and protect the town," South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer told the AFP newy agency. "The people in Bor are fearing an attack at any time."

Thousands of foreigners have been evacuated from Bor and other conflict zones in South Sudan, including a planeload of 130 citizens of Somalia, which itself has been ravaged by decades of conflict.

"This was the first batch of 335 Somali citizens who were stranded in South Sudan due to the conflict," Somali foreign ministry official Ali Abdi Ali told AFP.

South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011 following a civil war which killed more than two million people over 22 years.

(Reuters, AFP, AP)

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