United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that South Sudan’s President and his main political rival – whose respective forces are locked in an increasingly brutal conflict in the country – have said they plan to “sit down together” later this week for talks on ending nearly five months of fighting.
“I think this is absolutely necessary at this time. Since this crisis [began with] political issues…it is only natural that President Salva Kiir and Dr. [Riek] Machar sit down together to address [it] through dialogue, in a peaceful way,” said Mr. Ban at press conference in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, wrapping up his one-day visit.
The Secretary-General said he will continue to emphasize to the two leaders that “even though they may have some different political views, there is nothing which they cannot overcome. They are same people, same country – this is their country.”
The UN chief arrived in the world’s youngest nation amid a conflict which began in mid-December 2013 as a political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy president, Mr. Machar, who had been forced from office earlier that year.
The in-fighting has since erupted into full-fledged conflict believed to have left thousands dead and which has forced tens of thousands to seek refuge at UN bases around the country. The crisis has also been marked by numerous grave human rights violations. Mid-April also saw an upsurge in sectarian violence, with mass killings in Bentiu and Bor.
The Secretary-General said that when he visited the country three years ago for its independence ceremony, South Sudan had been full of joy, excitement and hope for the better future. “Yet today, I am standing here with a…heavy, heavy heart,” he said, noting that he was frustrated and saddened by what he had seen on this current trip.
“I visited displaced persons who are now being accommodated in the UNMISS [UN Mission in South Sudan] compound. The United Nations will continue to help them so that they will be able to return to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.
With all this in mind, Mr. Ban said he is “strongly supporting” the expressed intent President Kiir and Mr. Machar to attend peace talks, set to resume Friday, 9 May, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. He had met with President Kiir in the capital and had spoken by phone with Mr. Machar.
While the UN and the international community are committed to providing humanitarian assistance, “we hope that peace will be regained as soon as possible,” continued the UN chief.
“At the same time, I am urging the leaders and all those commanders of military units to fully protect the civilian population and also respect human rights and human dignity. Those who [commit] crimes against …international humanitarian law (and) human rights laws, they will have to be brought to justice,” he declared.
The Secretary-General added that President Kiir had assured him that the United Nations – including the leadership of the UN Mission – have his full support.
Saying that he is proud of the courage shown by UNMISS, Mr. Ban added that by opening its gates around the country, the Mission had saved tens of thousands of lives.
While in the country, the Secretary-General visited the Tomping civilian protection site, which is currently home to some 21,000 South Sudanese civilians. He was able to see the hardship faced by the families living in the camp and pledged to them the UN’s support.