Leaders side with Kiir in Juba fighting
Neighbours demand talks and end to crisis
NAIROBI AND JUBA: South Sudan’s neighbours have said they would not accept any violent overthrow of President Salva Kiir’s democratically elected government after almost two weeks of clashes with troops loyal to his former deputy.
Western powers and African governments fear the clashes could lead to an all-out ethnic- based civil war that would pose a danger to a fragile region with porous borders.
Speaking yesterday at an extraordinary heads of state meeting held in Nairobi by the east African body, Inter Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta urged Kiir and ex-vice president Riek Machar to seize “the small window of opportunity” and start peace talks.
“Let it be known that we in Igad will not accept the unconstitutional overthrow of a duly and democratically elected government in South Sudan. Violence has never provided optimum solutions,” Kenyatta said.
Machar, who served as vicepresident of South Sudan until Kiir sacked him in July, has accepted peace talks on condition that his detained political allies are released – a demand Kiir so far has shown no intention of meeting.
Kenyatta said South Sudan and regional governments had “no time” to find a solution to what he called a political problem within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party which had degenerated into a violent confrontation that risked taking “a dire ethnic direction”.
Kenyatta said a military option had little chance of succeeding.
“The present crisis, if not contained, will produce millions of internally displaced persons and refugees and set back this region immeasurably,” Kenyatta told the regional leaders.
Meanwhile, government forces and rebels in South Sudan battled for control of a key oil town.
Witnesses reported heavy fighting in Malakal, capital of the oil-producing Upper Nile State, and both government forces allied to President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to former vice- president Riek Machar insisted they were in control after days of street battles.
The UN announced extra troops and “critical assets” like helicopters would be on the ground by Saturday.
UN officials have admitted to being badly overstretched and unable to cope with the dual role of protecting as well as feeding and sheltering thousands of terrified civilians.
The fighting in South Sudan started on December 15 after Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup.
Machar denied this, and said the president was exploiting a clash between members of the army as a pretext to carry out a purge.
Fighting has since spread to half of South Sudan’s 10 states, with the violence taking on an ethnic dimension – pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer community.
Atrocities are reported to have been carried out by both sides.
Witnesses have reported massacres, summary executions and rapes, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has promised those responsible would be “held accountable”.
Meanwhile, China has said it would soon dispatch its special envoy for African affairs to South Sudan to make contact with all sides and help the situation quickly return to stability.
China is the main buyer of South Sudan’s oil, and has invested heavily in oil infrastructure and pipelines that carry crude from Unity and Upper Nile States.
Crude prices have edged higher because of the fighting, as oil production, which accounts for more than 95 per- cent of South Sudan’s economy, was dented by the violence and by the evacuation of oil workers.
The UN says more than 120 000 people have been displaced, including 63 000 sheltering at UN peacekeeping bases.
UN special envoy Hilde Johnson has said UN troops were “overstretched” and needed extra manpower to be deployed with “unprecedented speed”.
“We are working on 48 hours delivery of several of the critical assets that we need,” she said.
The UN Security Council agreed on Tuesday to nearly double the size of its mission known as UNMISS, allowing for up to 12 500 soldiers and 1 300 police, after the violence raged out of control.
Johnson said the UN peacekeeping office was “working around the clock” to get assets for its South Sudan mission from other deployments in Africa, notably from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan’s Darfur region and Liberia. – Sapa- AFP and Reuters MOSCOW: One of two freed members of punk protest band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, says their release was an effort to improve Russia’s image before the Sochi Olympics, which she called President Vladimir Putin’s pet project.
At a news conference yesterday, four days after their release under a Kremlin amnesty, Tolokonnikova’s band mate Maria Alyokhina said the Russian Orthodox Church played a role in their jailing last year for a profanity- laced protest in a Moscow cathedral.
Eight die in bomb attack on restaurant
MOGADISHU: At least eight people were killed in Mogadishu when a remotely controlled bomb exploded in a busy restaurant in the Somali capital yesterday.
The police suspect al Qaedalinked group al- Shabaab planted the bomb. Al-Shabaab did not immediately claim responsibility.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY: President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, makes his address during the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) consultative meeting on the situation on South Sudan held at State House, Nairobi, yesterday. Next to him are Ethiopian Prime Minister and Igad chairman, Hailemariam Desalegn, executive secretary Mahboub Maalim, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, right.
VITAL MEETING: Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, right, arrive for a meeting with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at State House in Juba, South Sudan, on Thursday. Igad would not accept the unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically elected government, Kenyatta said.