South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Friday agreed to meet for peace talks with rebel leader Riek Machar in a bid to set up a transitional government and end the bloodshed that broke out in the world’s newest nation in December.
The announcement, made by US Secretary of State John Kerry after he flew into Juba earlier in the day on an unannounced visit to push for peace, comes amid mounting international outrage over atrocities and war crimes, and with the UN and aid agencies warning that the country is on the brink of famine.
Kerry said that during their 90-minute long meeting, Kiir agreed to engage in Ethiopian-mediated direct talks with Machar.
"It is safe to say that President Kiir was very open... to take forceful steps in order to end the violence and implement the cessation of hostilities agreement and to begin to engage with respect to a transitional government," Kerry said at the press briefing which was not attended by the South Sudanese leader.
Kerry added that Machar has previously indicated he would engage in ceasefire discussions and that he would speak to him later Friday.
The American diplomat said a ceasefire would likely lead to a transitional government in South Sudan but would not comment on whether either of the two rivals would play a role in the country’s future leadership.
Previous ceasefire deal broke down
More than 1 million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in December between troops backing Kiir and soldiers loyal to his former deputy, Machar.
The fighting has largely run along ethnic lines between Kiir’s Dinka people and Machar’s Nuer.
Thousands of people have been killed, and tens of thousands have sought refuge from the violence at UN bases around South Sudan, which became the Africa’s newest nation in 2011 when it split from its northern neighbour, Sudan.
An earlier ceasefire agreement, reached last January, was abandoned within days.
If Kiir and Machar fail to move strongly to curb the violence, or if other fighters continue to violate human rights and disrupt humanitarian aid, Kerry said they would be held accountable. The consequences would range from economic sanctions to, potentially, prosecution by international courts.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-05-02