East African leaders gather for South Sudan crisis summit

Thursday March 13 2014

Regional leaders at a past Igad meeting in Nairobi. East African heads of state gathered March 13, 2013 in the latest push for peace in war-torn South Sudan. Photo/FILE

East African heads of state gathered Thursday in the latest push for peace in war-torn South Sudan, where almost three months of conflict has left thousands dead.

Leaders from the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), gathered in the Ethiopian capital to "deliberate on the current situation in the Republic of South Sudan", a statement read.

South Sudanese media said President Salva Kiir is due to attend, but no direct talks between Kiir's government and the rebels were due to take place until next week.

Ministers met late Wednesday ahead of the main summit, including officials from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.

Officials discussed a report from Seyoum Mesfin, Igad's chief mediator to slow-moving peace talks, the bloc said in a statement.

South Sudan's government has been at war with rebel groups since December 15, when a clash between troops loyal to Kiir and those loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting across the world's newest nation.


Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, who said he is to attend the meeting, said that "the Igad summit is intended to tackle means of implementing previous agreements and the deployment of peacekeeping forces to South Sudan."

The two sides signed an Igad-brokered ceasefire agreement on January 23, but heavy fighting has continued.

READ: Anxiety as South Sudan erupts again

Stalled peace talks in Ethiopia between rebels and the government, which have made little progress, are due to resume on March 20.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn this week said the peace process was "going very slow, but it is going in the right direction."

Over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighbouring nations as refugees, according to the United Nations.

The meeting comes a day after the African Union opened a special commission of inquiry into atrocities, which at times has included brutal ethnic tit-for-tat killings.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who was sworn in as head of the five-member AU commission, vowed that "whoever is responsible must not get away with impunity."

South Sudan this week opened the trial of four opposition leaders for treason for allegedly trying to topple Kiir, and ordered seven other leaders to return home to join them in the dock.