NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — South Sudan's government said Monday that elections scheduled for next year would be postponed for two or three years in order to tackle the issue of reconciliation among its people.
The announcement was made on the government's Twitter feed.
South Sudan was plunged into massive violence in December when President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president, Riek Machar, of trying to oust him in a coup.
Ethnic-based violence has raged since, killing thousands. The two leaders met in Ethiopia on Friday and signed a peace deal, but violence again flared over the weekend, with both sides accusing the other of having broken the conflict's second peace agreement.
The unilateral declaration that elections have been postponed is not likely to be welcomed by Machar or by international partners like the United States, which worked hard to help South Sudan peacefully break away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war.
The country's interim constitution called for elections to be held in July 2015, though Kiir had hinted previously that the vote may be postponed, raising concerns from opposition members that he was trying to extend his rule.
South Sudan has never held a nation-wide election. In January 2011 it held a referendum on whether to remain a part of Sudan or break away and form a new country. The referendum passed with more than 98 percent in favor. Kiir had been the region's top leader and became president at separation.
Thousands of people have died in the violence since December, and U.N. human rights investigators say that gross human rights abuses have taken place. More than 1.3 million people have fled their homes and aid workers worry that mass hunger will soon set in since few people are now planting crops.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both flew into Juba, South Sudan's capital, before the peace deal to pressure Kiir and Machar to meet in Ethiopia and sign the deal.
Heavy fighting broke out around the city of Bentiu on Sunday, but no new fighting was reported on Monday, said military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer. Government troops were in full control of Bentiu — the capital of an oil-producing state, he said.
Aguer said government forces are committed to the cease-fire but he questioned if forces loyal to Machar are committed. A rebel spokesman has accused the government of breaking the cease-fire and said that rebels were committed to the deal but that Kiir's forces were not.