South Sudan Rebels Snub Peace Talks as Ethnic Murders Rise

South Sudanese insurgents failed to attend talks to end a seven-month civil conflict as ethnic-based killings in the country’s north left at least six aid workers dead.

Rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar snubbed negotiations with South Sudan’s government, political parties and civil society in Ethiopia yesterday, even after they had “repeatedly assured the mediators of their commitment,” the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc mediating the talks, said in an e-mailed statement.

Conflict erupted in the world’s newest nation in mid-December when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of plotting a coup, a charge he denies. Violence has pitted some members of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group against Machar’s Nuer community, leaving thousands of people dead and displacing about 1.5 million others. The country will probably have famine conditions by September, according to the U.S. The United Nations says as many as 50,000 children face starvation.

IGAD said the insurgents should “immediately return to and fully participate” in discussions to end the violence and form a transitional government.

The mediators have “misrepresented” the position of the rebel delegation, which has been active in a sub-committee discussing implementation of a truce, spokesman Mabior Garang said in e-mailed statement today. The rebels want direct negotiations with the government while the other parties “participate in a consultative manner,” he said.

The delay comes amid a series of attacks by a militia in South Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile state targeting members of the Nuer ethnic group. At least six people have been killed in the state’s Maban county since Aug. 4 after clashes following the desertion of Nuer soldiers from the military, the UN said yesterday.

‘Civilians Targeted’

The UN, charities and donors said they were “horrified” by the Maban county killings in a joint e-mailed statement today. “We demand that all armed groups stop targeting civilians, and respect aid workers,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Toby Lanzer said. “Several of our colleagues in Maban are still in danger, and will not be safe until security is restored.”

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, raped or wounded since the fighting began, according to the statement. South Sudan faces a “humanitarian catastrophe” and a protracted conflict, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in an emailed statement today.

Government troops and rebels have targeted civilians based on their ethnicity in acts that may count as crimes against humanity, the UN mission in the country said in May. The U.S and European Union have placed travel bans and asset freezes on military leaders from both sides. IGAD, the African Union and UN are discussing more sanctions, Norway’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Jens-Petter Kjemprud said on Aug. 4.

Renewed Violence

Kiir is in Washington to attend a U.S-Africa leaders summit. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said Machar was responsible for renewed violence, without making reference to the killings in Maban county. IGAD, the UN and U.S. in late June condemned rebels after they attacked government positions in Upper Nile state.

Machar “needs to understand the international community is going to be impatient with those breaches,” Kerry said before meeting Kiir, according to a transcript e-mailed by the State Department. “I reiterate now that the president is the duly elected, constitutional president of South Sudan, and this is a rebel group”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn also criticized Machar for truce violations after regional leaders met Kerry yesterday.

Unless the parties reach an agreement at the talks in Ethiopia, East African nations are planning “punitive action” that will be taken immediately after a meeting by IGAD heads of state this month, Hailemariam said, according to a transcript of a press briefing on the State Department’s website.

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