South Sudan’s army and rebel forces traded accusations on Sunday, each blaming the other for violating a ceasefire agreement struck between President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar at the start of the weekend.
A UN official confirmed there had been fighting near the flashpoint town of Bentiu, with both sides exchanging gunfire. Army and rebels also reported clashes elsewhere in the country.
Kiir and Machar met face to face on Friday for the first time since South Sudan’s conflict began five months ago, to sign the ceasefire deal. The agreement marks the second time the two sides have promised to stop fighting, after an accord in January swiftly collapsed.
Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement, all fighting between the army and rebel forces was supposed to stop within 24 hours after the deal was signed.
Clashes erupted in South Sudan in December following months of tensions after Kiir decided to dismiss Machar as his vice president. The conflict has since threatened to tear apart the country, which only gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Deep ethnic divisions are partly to blame for the violence, which has pitted Kiir’s Dinka people against Machar’s Nuer.
South Sudanese army spokesman Philip Aguer said his forces had been attacked in two positions in the oil-producing Unity state, one of them near Bentiu, where an ethnic massacre in April raised worries of a potential genocide.
“They attacked only six hours after the ceasefire came into effect,” Aguer told the Reuters news agency, although he said the government’s SPLA army was able to repulse both assaults.
The UN official, who asked not to be named until more information was gathered, said there was heavy fighting around Bentiu on Sunday morning but said it later became more sporadic.
In rival accusations, rebel military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said the army launched attacks in Unity state and Upper Nile state, another oil producing region. He said shelling on Upper Nile rebel positions began a few hours before the ceasefire deadline but continued after it into Sunday morning.
“The latest violations of the agreement to resolve the crisis in South Sudan shows that Kiir is either insincere or not in control of his forces,” he said.
Western powers call for end to fighting
International mediators had demanded Kiir and Machar meet for face-to-face talks in Ethiopia this time, rather than leave the ceasefire agreement to negotiators, so as to be sure to obtain their personal commitments to making it last.
The United States and European Union countries, which have pressed hard for a deal, welcomed Friday’s agreement, calling on both leaders to issue immediate orders for a halt to fighting.
Western powers were instrumental in South Sudan gaining its independence in 2011, and trumpeted the state’s creation as a policy success.
The United States, which has already imposed sanctions on commanders from both sides of the conflict, warned of further steps if fighting continued. The EU also said it was considering punitive measures on those who committed rights abuses or blocked talks.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-11