South Sudan’s rival leaders meet as fighting continues

Salva KiirSouth Sudan’s warring rival leaders held face-to-face talks in Kenya but failed to make progress as fighting continued on the ground this weekend.

President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar met in Nairobi as part of the latest peace push led by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, after previous efforts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Arusha, Tanzania, failed.

“My two brothers held five hours of face-to-face talks,” Kenyatta said in a statement, adding it was an important step to “build confidence and trust between them.”

Kenyatta sought to put a positive spin on the direct meeting, the first in more than four months. He said “important issues” had been “identified and isolated” and that Kiir and Machar “reaffirmed their commitment to security peace for their people”.

At least seven ceasefires have been signed and broken during successive rounds of bad-faith talks that began soon after the new civil war started in December 2013.

There were no concrete outcomes or commitments from the weekend’s talks, and rebel spokesman Mabior Garang said the talks “failed to bear any tangible results”.

Even as the Nairobi talks were underway, a key regional capital in South Sudan reportedly changed hands once again as a renegade tribal warlord attacked the town of Malakal and declared his allegiance to Machar’s rebels.

A rebel statement said that ex-government general Johnson Olony — accused by aid agencies of forcibly recruiting hundreds of child soldiers — was in “full control” of the ruined town of Malakal, the state capital of Upper Nile, but the army dismissed the claim.

Aid workers in the town confirmed heavy fighting began on Saturday. The town is the gateway to the country’s last remaining major oil fields and has been repeatedly fought over during the 18-month long conflict.

Civil war began when Kiir accused Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

Two-thirds of the country’s 12 million people need aid, according to the UN and one-sixth have fled their homes.

The UN children’s agency said in a report this month that warring forces have carried out horrific crimes against children, including castration, rape and tying them together before slitting their throats. Others were thrown into burning houses.

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