South Sudan rebels 'committed' to ceasefire - Riek Machar

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Media captionMr Machar accused the government of breaking a ceasefire in an interview for the BBC HARDTalk programme

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar has told the BBC he is still committed to a peace deal, despite accusing the government of violating a ceasefire.

He said he wanted further "dialogue" with the government, also alleging that President Salva Kiir was not in control of some of the forces fighting for him.

The government earlier accused the rebels of flagrant violations of the truce, but said it would not break it.

The peace deal to end the five-month conflict was signed on Friday.

Thousands of people have been killed and at least 1.5 million have been displaced, according to UN estimates.

Some five million citizens of the world's newest country are currently believed to be in need of emergency aid, facing mass hunger.

'Agenda for dialogue'

Mr Machar was speaking to Stephen Sackur on the BBC's HARDtalk programme and the BBC Arabic Service in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the deal was signed.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Both the government and the rebels accuse each other of launching attacks in Bentiu
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption At least 1.5 million across South Sudan are now displaced, according to the UN
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal in Ethiopia on Friday

"We will negotiate with him [President Kiir]... for the sake of the people of South Sudan, we will negotiate and reach a political settlement", Mr Machar said.

"Finally, the government accepted the agenda for dialogue which they were refusing before signing the deal. We also accepted this agenda."

The rebel leader also accused government troops of launching attacks in five locations, including in the town of Bentiu in oil-rich Unity State.

Mr Machar alleged that President Kiir was not in full control of the forces fighting for him, like Ugandan troops and fighters from Darfur, and accused him of inciting ethnic hatred.

Earlier, Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei accused the rebels of violating the ceasefire.

But speaking to BBC Africa, Mr Makuei stressed the government "will continue to abide by and respect the agreement".

"And we call upon the international community to mount pressure on the rebels so that they respect and abide by their commitment."

There has been no independent verification of either side's claims of launching attacks.

In Addis Ababa, President Kiir Mr Machar met face-to-face for the first time since hostilities broke out and agreed to halt fighting within 24 hours.

A previous deal, made in January, collapsed in days, with each side accusing the other of breaching terms.

Earlier, the UN called on both sides to facilitate deliveries of emergency aid to a population in danger of mass hunger.

'Crimes against humanity'

The UN has accused both the South Sudanese government and the rebels of crimes against humanity, including mass killings and gang-rape.

The violence began when President Kiir accused his sacked deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the allegation, but then marshalled a rebel army to fight the government.

The battle assumed ethnic overtones, with Mr Machar relying heavily on fighters from his Nuer ethnic group and Mr Kiir from his Dinka community.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan. However, they have struggled to contain the conflict.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, breaking away from Sudan after decades of conflict between rebels and the Khartoum government.

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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