South Sudan rivals to begin peace talks

A South Sudan army soldier mans a machine gun - 30 December 2013 Talks in South Sudan's history have often been preceded by renewed fighting

Talks between South Sudan's government and rebels are due to start in the near future in Ethiopia, say observers.

However there has been no immediate halt to hostilities, with reports that heavy fighting is continuing.

The conflict erupted more than two weeks ago between supporters of President Salva Kiir and those of his sacked deputy Riek Machar.

At least 1,000 people have died and more than 121,600 are believed to have fled their homes.

Analysis

By sending a delegation to Addis Ababa, Riek Machar has agreed to one of the mediation's key demands - but not the other. The rebel leader told me he would not order his troops to stop fighting. This is something, he said, that can be discussed in Ethiopia.

Regional leaders had wanted a cessation of hostilities and talks to begin by 31 December. The attack on Bor was a clear attempt by Mr Machar to show his military power, which will strengthen his hand in any negotiations.

He also said his delegation will be led by Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of the South Sudanese hero John Garang. As a Dinka, she may help Mr Machar challenge the allegation that his rebellion is primarily from his Nuer ethnic group.

It is interesting that Mr Machar is now admitting that the "white army" - an ethnic militia - is "part of" his army. This will not do much for his popularity in many parts of South Sudan.

East African leaders have been leading mediation efforts to end the crisis.

On Monday, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni threatened the rebels with military action if they failed to agree to a ceasefire by the end of Tuesday, and begin talks.

It appears pressure on Mr Machar has worked, says the BBC's James Copnall in the capital Juba, as he says he is sending a delegation to the talks despite Mr Kiir failing to agree to demands including the release from jail of Mr Machar's political allies.

But Mr Machar insists he will not order his troops to stop fighting before preliminary talks have taken place.

The end-of-Tuesday deadline was also missed, with Ethiopia now saying they hope talks in Addis Ababa will start on Wednesday and the UN's special representative to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, saying they will begin on Thursday for "logistical reasons".

'Rebel gains'

Mr Machar, who was deputy president until he was sacked in July, denies there was a plot to overthrow Mr Kiir.

The fighting initially broke out in Juba, and has now spread to many parts of the country.

The situation in the key town of Bor is fast-moving, but a government minister confirmed that the town had fallen to Mr Machar's forces.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir told James Copnall a peaceful solution was still possible

Thousands of people are fleeing to the town of Awerial from Bor and surrounding areas, said David Nash of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, with many sleeping out in the open and facing a lack of clean water and sanitation.

The Sudanese army meanwhile said it had recaptured several areas bordering South Sudan on Tuesday.

Having apparently captured Bor, Mr Machar told AFP news agency that his forces were "still marching on Juba".

He said hostilities would only cease, and he would only arrive for talks in person, if preliminary negotiations in Addis Ababa were satisfactory.

Mr Machar claimed his delegation to talks would be headed by Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of John Garang, who led South Sudanese rebel forces against Khartoum for many years - though she later denied this in a BBC interview.

As a Dinka, Ms Nyandeng would help Mr Machar challenge the allegation that his rebellion is primarily from his Nuer ethnic group.

Mr Machar's forces are a mix of mutinous soldiers loyal to him and an ethnic militia called the "white army", known for putting white ash onto their bodies as a kind of war-paint and insect repellent.

Observers say the talks are likely to be complicated, as the two sides will have to agree on a mechanism to monitor a ceasefire.

Mr Kiir has also ruled out any power-sharing arrangement with Mr Machar in the longer term.

South Sudan is the world's newest state. It was formed in 2011, gaining independence from Sudan after decades of conflict.

BBC map Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his Nuer ex-deputy Riek Machar. The fear is that their rivalry which has turned violent will exacerbate ethnic tensions.
News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

Are you in the area? Please get in touch using the form below

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

  • Two sphinxes guarding the entrance to the tombTomb mystery

    Secrets of ancient burial site keep Greeks guessing


  • The chequeBig gamble

    How does it feel to bet £900,000 on the Scottish referendum?


  • Tattooed person using tabletRogue ink

    People who lost their jobs because of their tattoos


  • Deepika PadukoneBeauty and a tweet

    Bollywood cleavage row shows India's 'crass' side


  • Relief sculpture of MithrasRoman puzzle

    How to put London's mysterious underground temple back together


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.