January 10, 2014 [United Nations] — UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council are urging South Sudan’s president to release political detainees at the center of efforts to start a ceasefire in the country’s conflict.
Ban yesterday said he spoke with Salva Kiir on Thursday to call for the release of the opposition officials to boost hopes of ending battles in which thousands are feared to have died since December 15.
“I called President Salva Kiir yesterday again and urged him to demonstrate leadership and political flexibility by immediately releasing political prisoners,” the UN secretary-general told reporters.
“South Sudan is at a crossroads.”
The 15-nation Security Council also demanded the release of the detainees in order to “create an environment conducive to a successful dialogue” between Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar.
Forces loyal to Kiir and Machar are battling for control of key cities while peace talks are held in Addis Ababa.
Diplomats say Machar has demanded the release of 11 senior associates before any ceasefire. The group was detained as violence erupted in December.
The Security Council said both sides should halt the fighting and that Machar should agree to a ceasefire “without precondition.”
Kiir’s side has insisted the 11 must face legal proceedings.
Ban said the crisis in South Sudan is now “very dire,” with an estimated 75,000 people now crowded into UN compounds across the country.
The UN leader said widespread human rights violations had been committed and he would send Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic to South Sudan this weekend to review evidence of abuses.
“Perpetrators of serious human rights violations will be held accountable,” Ban said.