Shadow cast over peace talks as fighting flares, oil declines in South Sudan

By Okech Francis on 3/29/2018
JUBA (Bloomberg) -- Clashes flared between Sudan Sudanese troops and rebels, complicating talks to end the civil war that has cut oil production, two days after a regional bloc called for the insurgents’ leader to be freed from house arrest in South Africa.

The army and rebels blamed each other for instigating the Wednesday clashes in Kajokeji, near the Ugandan border. Rebel official Lam Paul Gabriel claimed 28 soldiers and one insurgent were killed, while army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said he didn’t have details.

Fresh violence is imperiling efforts to broker an end to the more than four-year conflict that’s claimed tens of thousands of lives, with the latest peace talks due in Ethiopia on April 26. East African cease-fire monitors on Thursday expressed “deep concern” over reports of hostilities in Central Equatoria, where Kajokeji is located, and areas of the oil-rich Upper Nile region.

On March 26, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of East African nations also known as IGAD, urged the release of Riek Machar, the former vice president turned-rebel leader who’s been under house arrest in South Africa since late-2016.

If he renounces violence, Machar should be allowed to move to any country that doesn’t border South Sudan, IGAD said in a statement. The bloc also said it was resolved to “continue monitoring and taking necessary measures, including targeted sanctions, against violators” of a cease-fire agreement.

The conflict has forced 4 million people from their homes, cut oil production -- a crucial source of government revenue -- and caused economic chaos. Areas of the country are on the brink of famine and two-thirds of the 12 million population may face food shortages by May.

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