South Sudan's government and forces loyal to the former vice president agreed Tuesday to a cease-fire ahead of talks intended to prevent civil war in the world's newest country.
"President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar agree on a cessation of hostilities and appoint negotiators to develop a monitored and implemented ceasefire," said a statement from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc. The development was reported by Reuters, but there's no word yet on when a cease-fire might take effect.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells our Newscast unit that both sides have agreed to send delegations to talks in Ethiopia, a decision that came after Uganda's president warned Machar that he could face regional military action if he rejected the cease-fire offer. Ofeibea reports:
"That threat adds to growing pressure on Machar, who had said all his political allies should be released from detention before negotiations. President Salva Kiir has ruled out sharing power with his erstwhile deputy, saying a rebellion deserves no rewards."
Oil-rich South Sudan, with a population of nearly 11 million, gained independence from Sudan in 2011. NPR's Gregory Warner, who visited the country recently, tells NPR's Michele Martin that the current conflict "has to do with the events of the last two weeks." He adds:
"[T]wo weeks ago, either — depending on who you talk to — the deposed vice president ... tried to instigate a coup against the president. ... Or he didn't, and President Salva Kiir made up the idea of a coup in order to clean house, arrest some government officials who were opposed to him and commit ethnic violence against some civilians that would be tribally affiliated with the Nuer, who were in support of Riek Machar. Now this is kind of a confusing way to begin because we're beginning with two totally different narratives. But that's what South Sudan is like these days."
Kiir is an ethnic Dinka; Machar is Nuer.
Gregory says the violence was a shock to many people because South Sudan seemed to have navigated the first two years of independence relatively peacefully — despite expectations that it wouldn't. But, he adds, "when you look back on the developments, the arrests, the tension, it seems sadly inevitable."
He says even when the country became independent in 2011 there was "ethnic tension, loose guns, lots of different militia groups which were then invited into the army ... all these factors and all kinds of economic problems, of course, being a powder keg to ethnic tension."
The violence has forced 70,000 people to take refuge in U.N. compounds across the country. They fear, Gregory says, that they'll be targeted if they leave those premises. Indeed, the U.N. says it has found mass graves on both sides.
Gregory has reported on the developments in South Sudan, and his entire conversation with Michele on Tell Me More is worth a listen.
Here are links to some of his reporting on the story: