Bashir calls for peace on visit to S. Sudan
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir arrived Monday in Juba calling for an end to three weeks of fighting in South Sudan as mediators struggled to get peace negotiations under way in neighbouring Ethiopia.
There were reports meanwhile of ongoing fierce clashes near the rebel-held town of Bor, situated 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of the capital Juba, with South Sudan’s army pouring in reinforcements in a bid to recapture the area.
“There should be peace and security in South Sudan,” Bashir said as he visited Juba for talks with his counterpart President Salva Kiir.
“We come so that we can bring peace to South Sudan, to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan. Our relationship is very important,” Bashir told reporters.
South Sudan won independence from Khartoum in 2011 after decades of war, but the north remains a key player — serving as the export route for the South’s oil.
Peace talks, brokered by the East African regional bloc IGAD and aimed at securing an elusive ceasefire, were set to start in Addis Ababa in the afternoon, Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said.
Despite movement on the diplomatic front, the fighting continued.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer said on Sunday it was only a “matter of time” before Bor was retaken, and said government forces were also on the offensive in the oil-producing Unity and Upper Nile states in the north.
The conflict in South Sudan erupted on December 15, pitting army units loyal to Kiir against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked last July.
Machar denies allegations that he started the conflict by attempting a coup, and in turn accuses the president of orchestrating a violent purge.
UN officials say they believe thousands of people have already been killed, and both sides are alleged to have committed atrocities. UN peacekeeping bases have also been overwhelmed with civilians seeking shelter, many of them fleeing ethnic violence between Kiir’s Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer tribe.