South Sudan: ADF Globemaster transport plane flies supplies into South Sudan as ceasefire talks delayed
An Australian Defence Force Globemaster transport plane carrying humanitarian supplies landed in South Sudan, as peace talks between the government and rebels were delayed and gunshots were heard in the capital Juba.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in fighting between government forces and rebel groups since the conflict in the word’s newest country began last month.
The Australian flight – one of several scheduled to take place in support of the UN mission in the country – was loaded with tents, water purification and sanitation equipment for refugees fleeing the fighting.
Meanwhile gunshots rang out in the capital Juba on Sunday as peace talks to hammer out a ceasefire deal were delayed in neighbouring Ethiopia.
The gunfire, which lasted about an hour, came from the direction of the military headquarters of the SPLA government forces, towards the northern outskirts of the city.
It was not clear who was involved.
Three weeks of fighting, which began in Juba but spread beyond, often along ethnic fault-lines, have forced a cut in oil output and left the world’s newest state on the brink of civil war.
Juba has been largely calm since the early clashes, though there was also a brief gun fight on Saturday evening, and residents have described growing tensions.
“I saw a truck full of soldiers going along the Bilpam Road,” Animu Afekuru, who lives in the neighbourhood, said.
“They were singing. About 20 minutes later the shooting started and people started running towards town.”
Western and regional powers – many of which supported the negotiations that led to South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011 – are pressing for a peace deal, fearing the latest fighting could destabilise east Africa.
The unrest pits president Salva Kiir’s SPLA government forces against rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Both warring factions have said they want peace and are committed to a ceasefire in principle, though neither has indicated when it would lay down its weapons.
But there is widespread scepticism in Juba, where residents are on edge amid rumours of a rebel advance on the city, which lies on the banks of the White Nile.
“I fear for our country in the coming days,” 19-year-old Nyathok Khat said.
“The politicians don’t care about the suffering of the people.”
Fighting also erupted outside the flashpoint town of Bor, the capital of vast Jonglei state, which has untapped oil reserves.
International support for diplomatic resolution
On Sunday US secretary of state John Kerry voiced his support for the Addis Ababa peace talks and warned against the use of force by either side to gain the upper hand.
“The negotiations have to be serious. They cannot be a delay gimmick in order to continue the fighting and try to find advantage on the ground at the expense of the people of South Sudan,” Mr Kerry told reporters during a visit to Israel.
Rebel and government negotiators were supposed to sit down face-to-face for the first time on Sunday.
But the rebel delegation and a Western diplomat told Reuters late in the evening there would be no meeting that day.
Mr Kiir blamed his long term rival, whom he sacked in July, for starting the fighting in a bid to seize power.
Mr Machar dismissed the allegation, but has acknowledged leading soldiers battling the government.
A key stumbling block to the talks is what should happen to a number of political detainees allied to Mr Machar who are accused of involvement in the plot.
The rebels have demanded their comrades’ release – a call backed by the US and European Union.
“This is a capital offence, it is a case of treason and we are expected as the government of the Republic of South Sudan to investigate within two, three days? This is out of the question,” South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei told reporters in Addis Ababa.
Several false starts have dampened hopes for a swift end to the fighting, which has driven more than 200,000 people from their homes.
The United Nations is scrambling to raise money to provide food, clean water and shelter.
Sudan’s state news service reported Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir would head to Juba on Monday to meet Kiir.