South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Tuesday urged an immediate halt to infighting between rival military factions of his old foe Vice President Riek Machar’s movement after weekend violence left dozens dead.
Kiir’s call came as regional African body IGAD warned that the splintering of Machar’s umbrella Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition “is beyond an intra-party crisis and bears significant immediate and long-term implications” for the world’s youngest nation.
At least 32 people were reported dead in the clashes that broke out on Saturday, just days after Machar’s rivals in his SPLA-IO said they had ousted him as party leader and head of its armed forces.
Following a meeting on Tuesday with Machar and other cabinet members, Kiir’s office released a statement calling for “the immediate cessation of hostilities” between the two camps.
Those talks came on the heels of an emergency meeting Monday of foreign ministers organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which called on the warring factions to open a dialogue.
The East African bloc has been a key player in peace talks to end South Sudan’s five-year civil war between forces loyal to Machar and Kiir that cost almost 400,000 lives.
But the latest fighting within Machar’s own movement threatens to put further pressure on the already fragile peace accord signed in 2018 and the power-sharing deal between the two men.
Each side blamed the other for launching the early-morning attacks Saturday on rival forces in Upper Nile State which borders Sudan.
Machar’s forces killed two major generals and more than 27 “enemy” soldiers, and lost three of their own men, a military spokesman for the vice president said.
In turn, the forces led by Simon Gatwech Dual, the general named last week as interim SPLA-IO chief, claimed in a statement they had killed 28 and lost four in their ranks.
The world’s newest nation has struggled with war, famine and chronic political and economic crisis since celebrating its hard-fought independence from Sudan in July 2011.
Kiir also urged the government to press ahead with the formation of a unified armed forces command, a key component of the peace deal and one which Machar claims is opposed by his foes.
IGAD brings together Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Eritrea suspended its membership in 2007 and has not been readmitted.