Several African heads of state have joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in condemning the attack on UN bases in Juba, and theft of 4,500 tonnes of food.
At least 11 heads of state from Igad-Plus, comprising leaders from five regions in Africa, met on the sidelines of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) summit in Kigali, to deliberate on the renewed violence in South Sudan, which has led to the death of more than 300 civilians and soldiers.
Under the chairmanship of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, with President Uhuru Kenyatta, among those in attendance, the African leaders reiterated a communique of Igad council of ministers in Nairobi. The council condemned violence on UN bases and prevention of civilians caught up in the violence from seeking shelter there.
It emerged as violence between rival factions raged last week, looters took advantage of the situation and raided the UN World Food Programme’s main logistics hub, and stole tonnes of food meant for the starving and vulnerable population, as well as generators and vehicle spare parts.
At least 300 people were killed in fighting in Juba between July 8 and 11 during clashes between government soldiers loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and those of First Vice President and former rebel leader Riek Machar. The violence shuttered a fragile peace and ceasefire deal.
The African leaders also backed a recommendation by Mr Ban to reinforce the UN Mission in South Sudan and impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for the recent violence.
Different versions have been floated as to what triggered the recent violence, which started as recently united President Kiir and Mr Machar were meeting at the Presidential Palace in Juba. Some reports indicated the chaos was triggered by a text message alleging Mr Machar had been detained inside as he met the president.
Others indicate that it was the soldiers allied to Mr Machar that had refused to undergo routine security checks, sparking a deadly gun fight with government soldiers, just outside the place.
The statement from Kigali also affirmed the need to enforce peacekeeping troops.
Chairperson of AU commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and former President of Botswana Festus Mogae–who is Igad executive secretary–Mahboud Maalim, were also present in the Kigali forum.
The leaders appealed to the international community and humanitarian agencies to come to the rescue of the affected populations by strengthening their presence and mobilising requisite resources.
The president of South Sudan was conspicuously absent from the meeting, and represented at the high-level meeting by Foreign Affairs minister Deng Alor. Leaders from virtually every corner of the continent called on Mr Kiir and Mr Machar and their warring factions, to honour their commitment to the agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.
The signing of the agreement, whose ink is barely dry, also led to the forming of the Transitional Government of National Unity, which the two rivals have now been called to live up to.
In a bid to prevent the country from going down to the abyss, the heads of state were of the view that its leaders acknowledge the ceasefire declared by the Mr Kiir and Mr Machar’s factions, “as a step in the right direction and request for its concrete implementation”.
“We urge the parties to respect the obligations under the international humanitarian law and open the corridors to allow safe passage of displaced communities and delivery of humanitarian supplies and remain seized in the matter,” read the statement issued on Saturday.