ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The U.S. envoy to South Sudan urged its government on Friday to start political reforms, saying the issues that led to armed conflict must be resolved so the world's newest country can achieve lasting peace.
South Sudan needs to "establish frameworks and principles for creating more democratic institutions," U.S. envoy Donald Booth said in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where 34 African leaders attended an African Union summit. "The fundamental questions should be embodied in the constitution of the country."
South Sudan's constitution gives the president extensive powers, and President Salva Kiir has been accused by his main political rival of governing like a dictator. Last year, amid a power struggle within the ruling party, Kiir sacked his deputy, the entire cabinet, as well as the ruling party's secretary-general —dismissals that escalated tensions in a country with a history of divided military loyalties.
More than 700,000 people have been displaced by violence since Dec. 15, when presidential guards splintered and fought along ethnic lines in the capital, Juba. Accused of plotting a failed coup, former Vice President Riek Machar went into hiding and declared himself the leader of renegade troops seeking to topple Kiir's government.
The United Nations says both sides have committed gross violations of human rights during the conflict, in which entire army battalions defected to the rebels made up of mainly Nuer fighters loyal to Machar. Government troops are mainly from the president's Dinka tribe.
African mediators last week got both sides to sign a cease-fire deal. But there is still no way to monitor that truce and both sides have traded blame over violations.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders said Friday that insecurity in oil-producing Unity state had forced thousands of people to flee into the bush. The group said 240 people, including its local staff and patients, fled one local hospital, fearing for their lives.
Rebel leader Machar denies there was a coup plot but admits his goal is to remove Kiir, who has sought the help of Uganda's military to quell the rebellion. Ugandan soldiers fought alongside government troops as they retook towns previously held by rebel forces, and Machar has said Ugandan military support to Kiir as well as the detention of his allies are obstacles to a peace deal.
Seven pro-Machar political leaders who had been detained by Kiir have been released to Kenya. But four Machar allies remain in jail in South Sudan for alleged treason.
The second round of peace talks is expected to start Feb. 7, after mediators travel to South Sudan to try to put in place a way to monitor the cease-fire.
Seyoum Mesfin, an Ethiopian diplomat who is one of two mediators, said Friday that both sides should "ensure the progressive withdrawal of armed groups and all allied forces."
Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda.