South Sudan Cease-Fire Talks Enter Second Day as Residents Flee

South Sudanese government and rebel representatives held a second day of talks aimed at agreeing to a cease-fire as the number of civilians seeking United Nations protection in the capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state doubled.

Almost 80,000 people have fled the country since violence erupted in the capital, Juba, on Dec. 15, crossing the border into countries including Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations Refugee Agency said today.

Talks aimed at ending the conflict adjourned yesterday to allow negotiators to consult on the issues of detainees, emergency laws in the states of Jonglei and Unity, and the presence of foreign troops. A regional mediator who traveled to Juba on Jan. 12 for talks with President Salva Kiir about 11 politicians detained when the fighting started has yet to return to the negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Information Minister Michael Makuei said today in an interview.

The two sides made progress on the issue of foreign forces in South Sudan and rebel negotiators are “hopeful” that a cease-fire can be agreed, though they are “suspicious of the sincerity of the government,” opposition spokesman Mabior Garang told reporters.

“The government is using issues of detainees to stall talks to pursue a military solution, which will never happen and will be very costly for our people,” he said.

The rebels last week dropped their demand that 11 politicians detained when the violence began be freed as a prerequisite for talks to start. The U.S., the UN and the European Union have called for the release of the prisoners, who’ve been held without charge.

Ugandan Forces

Ugandan lawmakers backed the deployment of the country’s army into South Sudan. The troops were sent last month to prevent the conflict from escalating into “genocide,” the state-run New Vision reported on Jan. 8, quoting army chief General Katumba Wamala.

Renewed fighting broke out today in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state, where the number of civilians seeking UN protection has risen to 19,000 from 10,000, Toby Lanzer, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, said on his Twitter account. At least 200 people died on Jan. 12 when a boat ferrying civilians fleeing reports of fighting in the town sank, according to the nation’s army.

Fighting started after Kiir accused former Vice President Riek Machar of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. The dispute escalated into clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group.

Death Toll

The death toll from the fighting is approaching 10,000, according to the International Crisis Group, while 413,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the UN Humanitarian Agency.

South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data. Since gaining independence in July 2011, it’s been exporting its crude through pipelines across Sudan. The fighting has cut output to about 200,000 barrels daily from 245,000 barrels a day, according to the government. Oil exports provide more than 95 percent of state revenue.

The fighting has halted most of South Sudan’s oil production, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

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