South Sudan crisis: Kiir and Machar 'to meet on Friday'

United Nation Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon holds a child in a UN camp in Juba South Sudan, Tuesday 6 May 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Ban Ki-moon said the two leaders must heal the wounds they had opened

A face-to-face meeting between South Sudan's rival politicians is likely to take place on Friday in Ethiopia, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said.

Both President Salva Kiir and his sacked former deputy Riek Machar had given him their assurances during his trip to South Sudan, he said.

More than a million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in December.

Meanwhile, a renewed ceasefire is due to come into force on Wednesday.

The truce - described as "30 days of tranquillity" - is an effort to re-establish an ineffective ceasefire deal that was agreed in January.

Humanitarian officials hope it will allow people to plant crops, tend to livestock or move to safer areas.

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Media captionThe BBC's Alistair Leithead reports from the rebel-held oil town of Bentiu

Fighting first broke out after President Kiir accused Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the charges, but then mobilised a rebel force to fight the government.

Over the past few days, South Sudan government troops have been trying to recapture the oil hub of Bentiu from rebels, but have been forced back amid heavy gunfire.

In a separate development, the US imposed sanctions targeting military commanders from both sides.

Marial Chinoum, who heads the South Sudanese presidential guard forces, and Peter Gadet, a rebel commander, were responsible for "perpetrating unthinkable violence against civilians", US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

'Enrages my soul'

During his one-day visit to the capital, Juba, Mr Ban said the continuing conflict was "senseless".

"What I have seen and heard today breaks my heart and enrages my soul," the AFP news agency quoted Mr Ban as saying.

He said the country's leaders "must support justice and accountability for the crime committed and they must act to address the root causes of the conflict".

It was Mr Kerry who got Mr Kiir and Mr Machar to commit to a meeting during his visit to South Sudan last week.

Mr Ban said the assurances he had received meant the talks in Addis Ababa could happen on Friday.

He added, however, that Mr Machar had told him that as he was currently in the bush, he may not be able to make it by Friday, but he would try his best.

Meanwhile, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has defended his role in the conflict and denied that South Sudan's government was paying for military assistance.

Mr Museveni told the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme that he had responded to a call by a beleaguered government to support it from "unconstitutional change".

He also said he would welcome sanctions against leaders blocking the peace process, if the sanctions were backed by regional bodies.

The power struggle between Mr Kiir and Mr Machar - who fought together in the civil war before South Sudan's independence - has increasingly taken on an ethnic dimension.

Mr Kiir is a member of the country's largest group, the Dinka, while Mr Machar is from the second-biggest, the Nuer.

Both sides have been implicated in atrocities and war crimes and thousands of people have taken refuge at the various UN bases across the country.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world's newest state after seceding from Sudan in 2011.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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