South Sudan leaders order ceasefire as civil war fears grow

Other News Materials 12 July 2016 04:03 (UTC +04:00)

South Sudan's president and vice president ordered their loyalists to cease hostilities on Monday after days of fighting threatened to plunge the country back into civil war and bring further instability to an impoverished region of Africa.

Fighting erupted four days ago in the capital Juba between followers of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the former rebel leader who became vice president under a deal to end a two-year civil war.

The violence, which has killed hundreds of people, broke out as the world's newest nation prepared to mark five years of independence from Sudan on July 9.

Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said Kiir and Machar had spoken by phone on Monday, a day which saw tanks and helicopters involved in some of the fiercest clashes yet.

"All the commanders of (Kiir's) forces are directed to cease any hostility and abide by the order and control their forces," Ateny told Reuters. "President Salva Kiir is determined to carry on his partnership with Riek Machar."

Machar responded by ordering his troops to stand down.

"The president has declared a unilateral ceasefire, I want to reciprocate the declaration of unilateral ceasefire," he told the independent Eye Radio.

Much is unclear, however, about the latest violence in Juba, including what the objective of either side has been and how much control Kiir and Machar have over their forces.

The U.S. State Department said it was carrying out an "ordered departure" of its staff from South Sudan.

The fighting has raised fears of a return to the civil war that erupted in late 2013 and broadly ran along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against Machar, a Nuer.

The conflict killed thousands of people, forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes and left almost half the population of 11 million people struggling to find food. Oil production, by far the biggest source of government revenue, has plummeted.