BRUSSELS/juba: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is sending an envoy to help seek a political solution to ethnic bloodletting in South Sudan and to liaise with neighbouring countries, the European Commission said yesterday.
“It is essential that all political leaders commit immediately to a political dialogue to resolve their differences,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Ashton, said.
In an emailed statement, she said Ashton had asked EU special representative Alex Rondos to travel to the region immediately and to liaise directly with concerned countries and organisations on the ground.
The UN Security Council approved plans to almost double the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan in response to fears of a worsening conflict there.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir called for an end to wanton killings and tribal-based atrocities yesterday, as government troops clashed with rebels loyal to his former deputy in an oil-producing region of the country.
Western powers fear the violence could spiral out of control and lead to a civil war split along ethnic lines in the world’s newest state, and the UN Security Council on Tuesday agreed to almost double the number of peacekeepers there.
“Innocent people have been wantonly killed. People are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. This is unacceptable,” Kiir said, according to an official Twitter account of South Sudan’s government.
“These atrocities recurring by now have to cease immediately,” Kiir added.
The violence erupted in the capital Juba on Dec. 15 and has quickly spread, dividing the landlocked country of 10.8 million along ethnic lines of Nuer and Dinka. Western powers and east African states, keen to prevent more chaos in a fragile region, have tried to mediate between Kiir, a Dinka, and rebel leader Riek Machar, a Nuer, who was vice president until Kiir sacked him in July.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is sending an envoy to the country, the European Commission said on Wednesday. A South Sudan government official said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta would arrive in Juba on Thursday morning to help mediate as well.
Despite African Union calls for a Christmas Day ceasefire, rebels and government troops on Wednesday clashed in Malakal, capital of the major oil state of Upper Nile.
“In Malakal, rebel forces are on one side, and government troops on another. Fighting is still taking place,” Army spokesman Philip Aguer said yesterday. A United Nations human rights group on Tuesday found a mass grave containing 75 bodies in a rebel-held town. Kiir and Machar have both said their dispute is political, not tribal. But many of the 45,000 civilians seeking refuge inside UN bases across the country say they have been targeted based on their ethnicity.
“It’s definitely not a good Christmas here in the abyss of war,” said Chan Awol, a 30-year old civil servant whose family has scattered across South Sudan after the fighting started.
“Nobody wants to go back to the days when there were no schools, no hospitals and no roads. Above all, no South Sudanese wants to be a refugee again.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Christmas Day delivered a radio message to South Sudanese people, saying the UN will stand with them during the country’s most difficult period since gaining independence from Sudan in 2011.
“We are strengthening the United Nations presence and will do our best to stop the violence and help you build a better future for all,” Ban said. Machar said on Monday that he was willing to negotiate with Kiir but only if his detained political allies are freed, something the government swiftly rejected.