AFP – South Sudan’s government and rebels are taking a more than two-week break from key peace talks having seemingly made little to no progress in three weeks, mediators said Tuesday.
The IGAD regional bloc, which is brokering the peace talks being held in Ethiopia, said both sides were halting the talks until 20 March in order “to further reflect and consult on guiding documents of the process”.
A spokesperson for IGAD, Tigist Hailu, said the two sides has yet to even finalise a framework for the talks, which are aimed at resolving the underlying causes of South Sudan’s slide into conflict.
The conflict broke out in the capital Juba on 15 December amid tensions within the ruling party of President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, but quickly spread across the country.
The unrest in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, has left thousands dead and displaced close to 900,000 people, including tens of thousands who have crammed into UN bases in fear of ethnic attacks by either President Kiir’s Dinka tribe or rebel leader Machar’s Nuer tribe.
The two signs signed a ceasefire agreement on 23 January, but heavy fighting has continued to rage in several oils, including the key northern oil hub of Malakal which was recaptured by rebels.
Almost 40,000 people may have been displaced by militia arson and looting in Sudan’s Darfur region, according to new data obtained by AFP on Tuesday.
More than 19,000 arrivals have been recorded at two camps for displaced people near the South Darfur state capital, Nyala, the International Organisation for Migration said.
That is in addition to an estimated 20,000 whom the UN’s World Food Programme on Monday said fled to safety at Saniya Deleiba, a village about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Nyala.
A WFP team was to travel to the village on Tuesday to determine exactly how many are in need.
Mario Lito Malanca, IOM’s chief of mission in Sudan, told AFP that his agency registered 5,473 displaced in Kalma camp and another 14,015 in Al-Salam camp.
The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said Monday that it had reports of villages burned, looting, and civilian casualties.
However, UNAMID said Sudanese authorities had not allowed peacekeepers into the conflict zone, despite an agreement with the government which says the blue helmets should have freedom of movement.
There are reports of people still fleeing the conflict area, with the security situation unpredictable and gunmen stationed on the main roads to Kalma and Al-Salam, a humanitarian source told AFP.
The new surge of displaced adds to the strain on agencies that were already struggling to assist almost two million people uprooted by 11 years of rebel-government war in Darfur, and a surge of inter-Arab militia fighting last year.
Non-Arab rebels rose up in Darfur in 2003, seeking an end to what they viewed as Arab elites’ domination of Sudan’s power and wealth.
In response, government-backed Janjaweed militiamen, recruited among the region’s Arab tribes, shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.
Analysts say Sudan’s cash-starved government can no longer control its former Arab tribal allies, whom it armed against the rebellion.
As a result, the militia have turned on each other in a struggle for resources. They have also been blamed for kidnapping, carjacking and other crimes.
Sources in the area told AFP that “all indications” are that so-called Rapid Support Forces, a Darfur militia, appear to be behind the latest violence.
The Rapid Support Forces had been assisting government operations against rebels in South Kordofan state before they moved on to North Kordofan, the official SUNA news agency reported.
The militia returned to Darfur after North Kordofan governor Ahmed Haroun ordered them out of his territory last month, saying they had “instigated panic and anarchy”, SUNA said.
Arriving in Nyala on Monday, the Rapid Support Forces “put on a show of military might that reassured the citizens of the security situation,” SUNA said.
It quoted the unit’s commander, Major General Abbas Abdel Aziz, as saying the troops “work to protect the citizens and their properties from the rebel forces”.