Talks on Saturday between President Salva Kiir and Rebecca Garang offered the first small ray of hope in the South Sudanese crisis. A press conference after the meeting provided little insight into what was discussed, but the fact that Rebecca Garang, the widow of the SPLA founding father John Garang, could hold discussions with President Kiir was itself something of an achievement. She is believed to have pushed for the freeing of the senior leaders arrested by the president, including Pagan Amum, dismissed secretary general of the ruling party, the SPLM.

This is the understanding of the UN Security Council, which was briefing last night that Salva Kiir, Riek Machar and Rebecca Garang agreed on an “unconditional” dialogue. Such talks would have to take place on neutral groups – probably Addis Ababa.

The politics behind the crisis

Political differences within the SPLM that sparked off the crisis. Friends in Juba suggest that President Salva Kiir, a military man rather than a politician, was determined to establish his authority. He was insisting on abolishing internal party voting by secret ballot, to replace it with a show of hands.

This is one version of how the conflict first broke out:

“1. Senior SPLM leaders rejected the “dictatorial practices” of the president. The president insults the seniors officials, saying: “Since I went to bush and took up arms in 1960s, I have never deviated from the struggle and I have never betrayed the cause of my people and I will never do it”. More insults followed. Instead of engaging in this childish politics, the seniors officials announced that they would give president Kiir some time to calm down and be ready to negotiate with the other camp. How did the president respond? The president ordered the Chief of General staff, James Hoth Mai to arrest Mama Nyandeng, Deng Alor, Pagan Amum, Alfred Lado, and even Dr. Riek Machar. Did Hoth agree? No, he cited insufficient accounts to warrant arrest these politicians. The president became even more furious.

2. The president turned to his presidential Guard Commander to carry out the order. The commander agreed, but did not trust some presidential guards (mostly the non-Dinka). As a result, he wanted to disarm them and take away their responsibilities. One happened to be the ammunition store manager. He demanded the ammunition store keys but the “untrusted” guard refused to surrender the keys to the commander. This is where the fight begins. 8 to 10 men were killed. This situation escalated to Bilpam, where both groups had comrades. From there the conflict spiraled out of control.”

USA sends in the diplomats

Secretary of State John Kerry has sent the US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth, to travel to Juba on Saturday. The increased pressure of the US comes after a delegation of IGAD ministers had promised to visit the detained opponments of President Kiir.

Kerry said: “I called South Sudanese President Kiir and urged him, as president of all of South Sudan, to protect all South Sudanese citizens and work toward reconciliation.” He added that: “The United States and other partners are committed to the realization of South Sudan’s full political, social, and economic potential, but make no mistake: these cooperative efforts will be undermined if political disputes drag the country back into senseless conflict and strife.”