Sun, 12 Jan 2014
By Agence France-Presse
Mediators pushed for a ceasefire in South Sudan as fighting raged Sunday for the last rebel-held town and the full extent of the destruction wrought began to emerge.
Riek Machar, then Vice President of South Sudan, pictured at the UN headquarters in New York on July 13, 2011
Envoys from the United States and South Sudan’s neighbours met Saturday with Riek Machar, who heads the rebel forces that have been fighting government troops for the past month, the rebels said.
There were unconfirmed news reports that mediators will meet with President Salva Kiir on Monday.
Meanwhile the full extent of the destruction wrought during recent battles began to emerge.
An AFP photographer touring villages around Bentiu, the Unity state capital, which government forces wrested back from rebels on Friday, saw corpses lying in the streets and the thatched roofs of torched mud huts still smouldering.
Meanwhile the Satellite Sentinel Project, co-founded by Hollywood star George Clooney, released images detailing destruction to homes and markets in two towns, Mayom in oil-rich Unity and Bor, the Jonglei state capital, which government forces are trying to take back from rebels for the second time in a month.
“Evidence of atrocities against civilians should be collected and used for future prosecution for war crimes. There will be no peace if massive human rights abuses can be committed with no accountability,” Clooney said in a statement. “This time in South Sudan there needs to be an end to impunity,” he said.
Fighting continued Sunday around the flashpoint town of Bor, rebel military spokesman General Lul Ruai Koang told AFP.
“We are still holding our positions, but the government forces are shelling them,” he said, adding he did not know if close combat was also taking place.
Mediation efforts rise a notch
Mediations efforts rose a notch meanwhile.
“The American Special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth together with (regional) mediators travelled to an undisclosed location in South Sudan to meet Dr. Riek Machar,” said a statement signed by Machar’s former press officer Miyong G. Kuon.
The meeting with Machar, a former vice president and seasoned rebel fighter, comes as talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa appear to be stalling. Mediators for the East African regional bloc IGAD have been trying to incorporate the proposals of both sides into a draft ceasefire document.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan on December 15. Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Machar in turn accused Kiir of using the coup accusation as an excuse to carry out a purge.
The biggest stumbling block in peace talks is still the 11 Machar sympathisers arrested by Kiir’s forces shortly after the fighting began.
Machar’s side has insisted the detainees should be released to they can take part in the talks, while Kiir is equally adamant they should face justice.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have both urged Kiir to free the 11 in order to kickstart the stalled talks.
The UN secretary general also warned that evidence of widespread atrocities committed during the month-long conflict would be investigated, and the perpetrators “held accountable.”
The fighting has forced nearly 400,000 people to flee their homes and caused “very substantially in excess” of 1,000 dead, according to the United Nations.
Of those forced to flee, some 350,000 are internally displaced and the remainder have fled into neighbouring countries.
The International Crisis Group, an independent think-tank, estimated as many as 10,000 people have been killed in the month of fighting in the world’s youngest nation, which won independence from Khartoum only in 2011.
When the army recaptured Bentiu, the rebels insisted they had withdrawn to “save civilian lives” and that they would fight on and defend Bor, which lies some 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of national capital Juba.
A rebel military spokesman also claimed anti-government forces still controlled vital oil infrastructure near Bentiu. South Sudan’s crude production, a key source of income for the impoverished nation, has dropped by around a fifth since the fighting began.
Fighting began as clashes within army units, but spread rapidly with government troops fighting huge battles against breakaway soldiers and ethnic militiamen loosely allied to Machar.
The conflict has also sparked a sharp upsurge in ethnic violence between members of Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe and Machar’s Nuer community.