South Sudan crisis: Kenya and Ethiopia leaders in Juba for talks

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Media captionThe BBC's Anne Soy reports on the evacuation of Kenyan nationals from South Sudan: ''A long, difficult, uncertain journey''

The leaders of two of South Sudan's neighbours, Kenya and Ethiopia, have held "constructive" talks there in a bid to halt fighting, officials say.

More than a thousand people are feared dead in violence that began 11 days ago and has raised fears of a civil war.

Ethiopia's foreign minister said the meeting with President Salva Kiir was "candid" and had centred on halting the violence and starting political talks.

Mr Kiir is involved in a power struggle with ex-deputy Riek Machar.

The fighting has exposed ethnic divisions in the world's youngest state as the president is an ethnic Dinka, while Mr Machar represents the Nuer tribe.

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Media captionEthiopia's Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom: ''Any solution to this crisis should be through political dialogue''

UN officials believe well over a thousand people have been killed since violence erupted on 15 December, when clashes broke out at a meeting of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

President Kiir accused the former vice-president, who had been sacked in July, of plotting a coup. Mr Machar denies trying to seize power.

The fighting has since spread to half of South Sudan's 10 states and is now focused on the capital of oil-producing Unity state, Bentiu, and Malakal, the main town in Upper Nile state.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to UN compounds across the oil-rich country. The UN Security Council has decided to boost the existing UN force (Unmiss) of around 7,000 peacekeepers and police to about 14,000.

Image caption The three leaders met behind closed doors in Juba
Image caption South Sudanese forces in Bor
Image caption UN officials said the area around Bor was becoming safer

In a Christmas Day message, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said "South Sudan is not alone".

Mr Kiir, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, went into the closed-door meeting on Thursday morning with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, currently head of the East African Community.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said later they had discussed a cessation of hostilities, an immediate start to political talks, supporters of Mr Machar who were in detention and the humanitarian crisis.

The two leaders and other East African countries would "do their best to resolve this problem amicably", he said.

The European Union is sending an envoy, Alex Rondos, to Juba to push for a negotiated solution. China said its special envoy to Africa would also travel to Juba "soon".

Both the South Sudanese leader and Mr Machar have said they are willing to discuss an end to the crisis.

But the former vice-president has said his detained political allies must first be freed, while Mr Kiir says there should be no preconditions.

Mr Machar told Paris-based Sudan Tribune on Thursday he had appointed a delegation to start talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

But South Sudan Information Minister Makuei Lueth told the Associated Press no contact with Mr Machar had yet been established. "For us, we are not talking with him," he said.

'Sense of confidence'

After the violence broke out, forces loyal to Mr Machar seized the key towns of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, and Bentiu.

But government forces recaptured Bor on Tuesday and are trying to retake Bentiu.

Unmiss spokesman Col Michael Chadwick told BBC News that the area around Bor was currently relatively stable.

Some 15,000 people had fled to the UN compound in Bor but up to 2,000 of them were now moving out as the situation had become safer, he said.

"This is giving us a sense of confidence that we'll be able to establish more Unmiss flights and possibly more humanitarian flights."

South Sudan has struggled to achieve a stable government since becoming independent from Sudan in 2011.

The independence referendum was intended to end a decade-long conflict, led by the SPLM, against the north. But the oil-rich country remains ethnically and politically divided, with many armed groups active.

After a peace deal was signed in 2005, the southern rebel group appointed Mr Machar as vice-president of the South Sudan regional government, a position he retained after independence in 2011 until he was dropped in July.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a power struggle between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and his Nuer ex-deputy Riek Machar. The fear is that the rivalry will spark a widespread ethnic conflict. According to OCHA, 81,000 people have been forced from their homes.
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 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 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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%).

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