Washington — President Obama says a cease-fire in South Sudan is the first step toward ending civil strife that has resulted in thousands of deaths -- military and civilian -- in five weeks of violence.
"Now, South Sudan's leaders need to work to fully and immediately implement the agreement and start an inclusive political dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict," Obama said in a White House statement January 23.
South Sudan's government and rebel leaders signed a cease-fire agreement on January 23. Talks are set to resume in early February, but a question remains about the status of 11 former government officials being detained by the government.
Obama said the full participation of those political detainees being held by the government of President Salva Kiir will be crucial to future peace talks.
"We will continue to work to expedite their release," Obama said in Washington.
The United States has worked to organize peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which borders South Sudan to the east. The United States has also gotten the U.N. Security Council to authorize an additional 5,500 peacekeeping troops.
The United States is working closely with South Sudan's neighbors through East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is leading mediation efforts. A special summit was held 12 days after the violence began, and leaders assembled in Addis Ababa for negotiations a few days later.
"In order to regain the trust of their people and the international community, South Sudan's leaders must demonstrate their sustained commitment to a peaceful resolution of the crisis," Obama said. He added, "I am grateful for the constructive role played by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and our partners in the region to advance these efforts."
The crisis began with a political dispute on December 15 between President Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, whom Kiir accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
The democratic government must survive, Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a U.S. Senate committee, the hostilities must end, all violence directed at civilians must end, humanitarian access must be provided, and the release of political prisoners in Juba, the nation's capital, is essential. And those responsible for human-rights abuses must be held accountable.
The people of South Sudan voted January 9, 2011, for independence from the Republic of Sudan following years of civil war.
South Sudan's neighbors are providing asylum for new South Sudanese refugees, who may number in the hundreds of thousands, Thomas-Greenfield said. It has been estimated that 1,000 civilians have been killed and more than 180,000 people have been displaced.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it is important to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by the conflict. "We call on all parties to facilitate the immediate and unfettered provision of humanitarian assistance to all those in need in South Sudan, regardless of where they are located," Harf said.