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South Sudan war dominates as Kerry opens Africa tour

01 May 2014, 14:27

Addis Ababa - Fears of genocide and famine in war-torn South Sudan dominated US Secretary of State John Kerry's agenda Thursday, as he launched an Africa tour focusing on the continent's most brutal conflicts.

Kerry arrived for his first major African tour late Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, which has been hosting start-stop peace talks between South Sudan's government and rebels aimed at ending a bloody four-month civil war.

Outrage is mounting over the scale of killings, with both government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels backing ex-vice president Riek Machar implicated in massacres, rapes, attacks on UN bases and recruiting child soldiers.

Thousands of people have already been killed -- and possibly tens of thousands -- with at least 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes in the country, the world's youngest, which won independence from Sudan only in 2011.

Kerry met Thursday with counterparts from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, for talks in which the conflict topped the agenda, including discussions on regional nations sending troops as part of a force to help stop the fighting.

"I think it is clear that everybody is in agreement that killing must stop, that humanitarian access needs to be delivered," he told reporters after the meeting.

Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union, and in meetings Thursday Kerry is expected to discuss conflicts not only in South Sudan, but also in Central African Republic (CAR), Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Washington "fully supports African-led efforts to confront the most deadly conflicts of the continent," added Kerry, who is also due to visit DR Congo and Angola.

"It is clear that the unspeakable violence in Central African Republic, the deliberate killing of civilians of both sides in South Sudan, both of those underscore the urgency of the work that we have to do together," he added.

South Sudan peace talks resumed again on Monday after long delays but have made little progress.

A ceasefire signed in January is in tatters, with tens of thousands of people sheltering in UN bases following a wave of ethnic massacres and other war crimes.

Kerry will "push for both sides to honour the agreement that they signed", a US diplomat travelling with the delegation said.

 'Tough messages'

The United States was instrumental in helping South Sudan gain independence, and Kerry is expected to try to press the negotiators at dragging peace talks.

"Both sides think that they can win this militarily, and they have certainly not participated in any committed way to finding a negotiated settlement for the conflict," the diplomat added.

The war has taken on a bitter ethnic dimension, pitching the Dinka people of Kiir against the Nuer of Machar, but the diplomat said the heart of the conflict was rather a personal "Riek Machar-Salva Kiir battle".

Washington is expected to deliver a "tough messages" to the warring parties, warning they will be held accountable if "they don't take the necessary actions to end the hostilities", the diplomat added.

Sanctions have been threatened although Kerry is not expected to announce specific names, the diplomat said, although the US is drawing up a list of individuals.

But time is short to end the crisis.

Kerry landed in Ethiopia hours after top United Nations rights officials vowed they would to do everything in their power to prevent the country from sliding into genocide, and warned of the growing risk of famine.

Firing off a damning attack against both Kiir and rebel leader Machar, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was "appalled by the apparent lack of concern about the risk of famine displayed by both leaders."

"The deadly mix of recrimination, hate speech, and revenge killings... seems to be reaching boiling point," Pillay said Wednesday.

The UN this week made a desperate appeal for a one-month truce to avert a famine and humanitarian disaster.

"To the survivors of the genocide, we owe a pledge to take all possible measures within our power to protect populations from another Rwanda, there is no excuse for inaction," said UN envoy for the prevention of genocide Adama Dieng, who travelled with Pillay.



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