As regional presidents warn South Sudanese leaders to end the conflict, the UN begins flying additional police and troops into the country.
This comes as the military situation appears to be tilting in President Kiir’s favour.
A warning from the region
South Sudan’s neighbours have warned that they are reaching the end of their patience with the newly independent country. Meeting in Nairobi on Friday, they gave the South Sudanese rival, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar a four-day ultimatum to cease hostilities or face unspecified action. The warning was issued by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (who chaired the meeting), President Kenyatta of Kenya, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (Somalia) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda).
Exactly what the region’s presidents would do if no way forwards was found was not made clear. But for once there was at least a show of regional unity.
The leaders said in a communiqué that they would not allow the seizure of power from a democratically-elected government through the barrel (of a gun).They condemned violence in South Sudan that has caused deaths, injuries and displacement of many, and called on those behind the fighting to refrain from fuelling it.
“We welcome the commitment by the Government of South Sudan to an immediate cessation of hostilities and call upon (former Vice President) Dr Riek Machar and other parties to make similar commitments,” read the statement.“We are determined that if hostilities do not cease within four days of this communiqué, the summit will consider taking further measures,” it went on.“We, however, commend the expressed commitment of both sides to engage in dialogue and reiterate the imperative of an immediate pursuit of a political solution, including an all-inclusive dialogue among all concerned,” the communiqué added.
Machar replies via BBC
Speaking to the BBC by satellite-phone from the bush, Machar refused to endorse Salva Kiir’s call for a ceasefire and demanded the release of all 9 members of the SPLM leadership who had been arrested when the conflict erupted.
Machar said he had a negotiating team ready but any ceasefire had to be serious, credible and properly monitored. “So 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,” he told the BBC. He called for the release of all 11 detainees, a key rebel condition for any negotiations. Machar said he had spoken to the two detainees freed in Juba, whom he named as his executive director, Deng Deng Akon, and former Higher Education Minister Peter Adwok.
As all this was under way, the United Nations was bringing additional resources into the country. The first 73 Bangladeshi police have arrived in Juba, after being flown in from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joseph Contreras, the spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, said half would be deployed to Bor and the other half would probably remain in Juba.
“In the next 48 to 72 hours an additional police contingent will arrive from Liberia,” Contreras said in a phone interview. But it will be weeks before the additional 5,500 peacekeepers authorised by the UN Security Council on 24th December are expected to arrive.
Meanwhile, the fighting appears to have subsided in most of the main towns. It is 10 days since Juba saw real clashes, although the situation at night is far from secure. Bor and Malakal, once held by pro-Machar forces, are back under government control. Only Bentiu in Unity state is still in the hands of the rebels. While it contains considerable oil reserves, about 85% of the oil is in Upper Nile and still in government hands.
Amanda Weyler of the UN Humanitarian organisation, OCHA, says that some 121,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, but that the UN’s first priority is to care for the 25,000 who have sought sanctuary in UN bases. “Getting them clean water, removing waste and digging latrines is critical,” she said. She said it was vital to prevent an outbreak of diseases like cholera, since so many people are so densely packed into such tiny areas.