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South Sudan ceasefire called into doubt

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South Sudan's government agreed Friday at a meeting of East African leaders to end hostilities against rebels accused of trying to overthrow the young country, but the ceasefire was quickly thrown into doubt because the head of the rebellion was not invited.

An army spokesman suggested the fighting could go on despite the announcement by politicians in a faraway capital.

Ottawa pulls diplomats from Juba amid concerns

 

OTTAWA -- The Canadian government is pulling all its diplomats and staff out of South Sudan over concerns for their safety.

Lynne Yelich, a Conservative minister of state, said in a release Friday operations at Canada's office in Juba have been temporarily suspended and all staff moved to the Canadian high commission in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Due to operational challenges, including the unpredictable security environment in Juba," the government has temporarily closed the office, Yelich said.

The Canadian exodus comes as the South Sudanese government agreed Friday to end hostilities following a failed coup that has sparked escalating internal violence across the world's newest country since mid-December.

More than 120,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which involves warring factions of the country's military.

 

-- The Canadian Press

At the meeting in Kenya, South Sudan agreed not to carry out a planned offensive to recapture Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state, which is controlled by troops loyal to Riek Machar, the former vice-president vilified by the government as a corrupt coup plotter.

"We are not moving on Bentiu as long as the rebel forces abide by the ceasefire," said Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan's information minister.

But no one representing Machar was at the Nairobi meeting -- a move possibly meant to deny him any elevated status that could also slow the search for peace. And Machar told the BBC that conditions for a truce were not yet in place.

In the field, the military reported no immediate changes in the battle for control of the world's newest country.

Said army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer: "We have not seen any sign of a ceasefire. There is no ceasefire agreed by the two sides," an indication the planned assault on Bentiu could still take place.

Elsewhere, the country's military advanced on the rebel-held town of Malakal early Friday and had taken control of it by noon, Aguer said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced the first contingent of reinforcements for its peacekeeping force in South Sudan -- 72 international police officers from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo -- arrived in Juba on Friday.

The Bangladesh police officers will be deployed immediately to help with the internally displaced persons, now numbering approximately 63,000, who are seeking refuge in UN compounds throughout South Sudan, the UN said.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously last week to temporarily beef up its peacekeeping force in South Sudan from about 8,000 troops and police to nearly 14,000 and send attack helicopters and other equipment to help protect civilians.

Violence erupted Dec. 15 in South Sudan's capital Juba and quickly spread across the country. Ethnic Nuers -- the group Machar is from -- say they are being targeted by Dinkas, the ethnic group of President Salva Kiir.

The UN, the South Sudan government and other analysts say the dispute is political at its heart, but has since taken on ethnic overtones.

The 25,000 people -- mostly Nuers -- sheltering at UN camps in Juba fear they would be targeted for death if they leave. Members of the government insist Juba's streets are safe for all.

The fighting has displaced more than 120,000 people and killed more than 1,000.

East African leaders meeting under a bloc called IGAD said in a statement Friday they "welcomed the commitment" by the South Sudanese government to cease hostilities.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 A29

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