South Sudan crisis: Talks with Kiir productive, say mediators

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Media captionTens of thousands of people caught up in the violence have sought shelter in UN camps

African mediators trying to avert civil war in South Sudan say they have held "productive" talks with President Salva Kiir.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said consultations were continuing, but did not give details.

Clashes began a week ago when President Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of a failed coup.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was sending a special envoy to help foster dialogue.

He said his decision to send Ambassador Donald Booth followed a phone conversation with President Kiir on Thursday.

"Now is the time for South Sudan's leaders to rein in armed groups under their control, immediately cease attacks on civilians, and end the chain of retributive violence between different ethnic and political groups," Mr Kerry said.

Hundreds of people have already died in fighting across the country.

Although Mr Kiir has said he is ready for dialogue, Mr Machar told French radio he was only ready to "negotiate his [Salva Kiir's] departure from power".

On Friday, President Kiir met foreign ministers from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda who had travelled to the capital Juba to mediate in the crisis.

He told them he agreed to "unconditional dialogue" to stop the violence.

"We had a very productive meeting with his Excellency President Salva Kiir and we will continue consultations," Mr Adhanom, who led the delegation, told reporters before returning to the talks.


As the violence escalated, Ugandan troops flew to Juba on Friday to help evacuate their citizens.

Military sources quoted by Reuters said they would also help secure the capital, which is about 75km (50 miles) from Uganda's border.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ugandan citizens evacuated from South Sudan arrived back in Entebbe

A number of other countries are also evacuating their nationals from South Sudan.

And with the fighting spreading to South Sudan's oilfields, China National Petroleum - one of the main operators - said it was evacuating workers back to Juba.

President Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, sacked Mr Machar, who is from the Nuer community, in July.

He said that last Sunday night uniformed personnel opened fire at a meeting of the governing party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Violence then broke out in Juba and has since spread across the country, pitting gangs of Nuer and Dinka against each other and sparking fears of a civil war.

The whereabouts of Mr Machar, who has denied trying to stage a coup, remain unknown.

Assault fears

Thousands of civilians have flocked to UN compounds seeking shelter from the unrest.

The UN on Friday condemned an attack on its compound in Akobo, Jonglei state, a day earlier in which two Indian peacekeepers and at least 11 civilians were killed.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Government troops are patrolling the capital, Juba

The UN mission in South Sudan, Unmiss, said some 2,000 armed youths believed to be Nuer surrounded the base and opened fire "in the direction of Sudanese civilians of the Dinka ethnic group who had sought refuge in the compound".

Unmiss said all its personnel - along with civilians and members of non-governmental organisations - had now been airlifted from the base.

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said there were fears of another assault as armed youths gathered near the UN compound in the town of Bor, in Jonglei, on Friday.

Jonglei state has seen some of the worst violence since South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011, with hundreds killed in periodic clashes between rival heavily-armed ethnic militias sparked by cattle-rustling.

Following decades of conflict, weapons are widely available across much of South Sudan.

South Sudan's government insists the clashes are over power and politics, not between ethnic groups.

President Kiir said the majority of those arrested after Sunday's alleged coup attempt were Dinka, not Nuer.

The oil-rich country has struggled to achieve a stable government since becoming independent.

Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption In the Sudanese states of Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In South Sudan, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of South Sudanese have no toilet facilities.
Image caption Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan depend on food aid. The UN says about 2.8m people in South Sudan required food aid in 2013.

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