African leaders in emergency talks as rebels seize oil wells in South Sudan

President makes commitment to East African leaders – but arch-rival absent from summit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 1:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 1:45am

South Sudan's government yesterday agreed to end hostilities, regional leaders said at the end of a crisis summit, raising hopes for a breakthrough in efforts to cease violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people in the world's newest country.

East African leaders meeting in Kenya under a bloc called IGAD said they "welcomed the commitment by [South Sudan's government] to an immediate cessation of hostilities." But former vice-president Riek Machar, President Salva Kiir's political rival who is accused of orchestrating a failed coup that the government says sparked unrest across the country, was not represented at the summit in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

There is a very small window of opportunity to secure peace

Machar, the leaders' joint statement said, is urged to "make similar commitments" to end hostilities.

IGAD said it opposes a violent change of government in South Sudan and urged Kiir and his rivals to start peace talks before the end of 2013.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said there is "a very small window of opportunity to secure peace" in South Sudan, where fighting since December 15 has raised fears of civil war.

South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of a brutal war of independence fought against Sudan. The young country has been plagued by corruption, ethnic tension, and a power struggle within the ruling party that pits Kiir against Machar.

Rebels have seized oil wells and captured half of the capital of the main oil-producing region, the government and army said, raising alarm in Beijing. China has substantial interests in South Sudan's oil fields, although it is unclear whether they are directly affected by the latest fighting.

South Sudan's Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said the rebels had captured oil wells in Unity state, where production was shut down earlier this week due to fighting.

Dau said oil output, which fell by nearly a fifth to 200,000 barrels a day when the Unity state oil fields shut down, had not been affected by clashes in Malakal.

Beijing said on Thursday that it would send its special envoy for Africa to help bring about talks between Kiir and Machar. "China is highly concerned about the evolving situation in South Sudan," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

Associated Press, Reuters