Kenya’s president yesterday urged South Sudan’s leaders to resolve their political differences peacefully and to stop the violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world’s newest country.
In a speech at a summit for regional leaders in Nigeria’s capital, Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta cited the example of late former South African president Nelson Mandela and said there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in South Sudan, where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of a full-blown civil war.
“Many of you were in South Africa earlier this month for the burial of the great Nelson Mandela,” Kenyatta said. “We fully accept our late icon’s wisdom in understanding that great adversity can only be reasonably born where there is a determination to forge societies and communities that are positively transformed.”
The summit, which is focusing on South Sudan, is expected to produce a road map for peace talks between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar, Kiir’s political rival who is accused of orchestrating a failed coup that the government says sparked unrest across the oil-producing East African country.
South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of a brutal war of independence. The young country has been plagued by corruption, ethnic tension and a power struggle within the ruling party that pits Kiir against Machar.
Machar, the alleged leader of renegade forces now in control of some parts of South Sudan, remains a fugitive wanted by the military. At least 10 of his political allies are in detention for their roles in the alleged coup plot.
Machar denies there was a coup attempt and some officials with the ruling party insist violence broke out when presidential guards from Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe tried to disarm guards from the Nuer ethnic group, leading to wider military clashes along ethnic lines.
The number of internally displaced people continues to rise, with many seeking shelter at UN compounds across the country.
There are sporadic military clashes in the oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile, potentially endangering the oil revenues that South Sudan depends on to keep the government running.
The UN is also investigating alleged mass killings in the latest violence.
“We have heard reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions of civilians, ill-treatment, abuse and also mass graves,” said Hilde Johnson, head of the UN mission in South Sudan. “Our human rights officers have been working around the clock throughout this crisis, and they are investigating these reports and allegations.”
Following a meeting on Thursday with the leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya, Kiir agreed “in principle” to stop hostilities and to negotiate with Machar, who is expected to be formally invited to attend upcoming peace talks, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.