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African Mediators Try to Avert Civil War in South Sudan

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir

(Reuters) – African mediators said they held “productive” talks on Friday with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, trying to prevent an almost week-long conflict plunging the world’s newest nation into an ethnic civil war.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir

In a sign of the nervousness among South Sudan’s neighbors, Ugandan soldiers flew in to help evacuate their citizens. Two anonymous military sources said they would also help secure the capital, which lies about 75 km (50 miles) from Uganda’s border.

Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, has accused his former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer who was sacked in July, of attempting to seize power by force.

Fighting that began on Sunday in the capital Juba has swiftly spread, and U.N. staff have reported hundreds killed.

Kiir has said he is ready for dialogue. Machar told French radio he was ready to “negotiate his departure from power” and said the army could force Kiir out unless he quit.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Kiir on Thursday and would send his envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth, to help facilitate talks.

“Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to rein in armed groups under their control, immediately cease attacks on civilians, and end the chain of retributive violence between different ethnic and political groups. The violence must stop, the dialogue must intensify,” Kerry said in a statement.

As fighting has moved out of the capital, it is increasingly driven by ethnic loyalties as much as political rivalries.

The U.N. said on Friday at least 11 people from the ethnic Dinka group had been killed during an attack by thousands of armed youths from another ethnic group on a U.N. peacekeeping base in Jonglei state. Two Indian peacekeepers died.

The United Nations had earlier said at least 20 people were killed, and South Sudan’s government said earlier 54 Dinka had been killed in the incident. The United Nations mission in South Sudan is still trying to verify the exact number of dead.

Deputy U.N. peacekeeping chief Edmond Mulet told the U.N. Security Council on Friday 35,000 civilians were sheltering at U.N. bases across the country.


Fighting has spread to oilfields vital to the impoverished new state’s economy and dependent on foreign workers. Soldiers from the rival factions clashed at a barracks near the town of Bentiu, capital of the oil-producing Unity State.

Some 200 oil workers sought refuge in a U.N. base on Thursday. China National Petroleum Corp, one of the main operators, said it was flying 32 workers out of one field to Juba, according the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

“It’s difficult to find plane providers to fly to some of these remote air strips. The situation on the ground is very fluid and we can’t be absolutely confident about exact rebel locations and which airfields they may be controlling,” said one security analyst, who did not wish to be identified.


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