South Sudan‘s latest ceasefire has been violated hours after it began with the government and armed opposition trading blame.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his opponent Riek Machar agreed, at talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Wednesday, to a “permanent” ceasefire to take effect within 72 hours, raising hopes of an end a devastating civil war.
The conflict erupted in 2013, around two years after South Sudan won independence from Sudan, when Kiir accused his then-deputy Machar of plotting a coup. It claimed tens of thousands of lives, displaced four million people and left the newly created country’s oil-rich economy in tatters.
The “permanent” ceasefire had gone into effect at midnight.
But later on Saturday, rebel spokesperson Lam Paul Gabriel said government forces and Sudanese rebels launched a “heavy joint attack” in Mboro, Wau County around 7am (04:00 GMT) on Saturday, arriving in armoured personnel carriers, trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles.
The Associated Press news agency quoted Gabriel as saying “the fight is still ongoing as I write”. He called on the UN peacekeeping mission and ceasefire monitors to investigate, adding that the opposition reserves the right to self-defence.
“This is disappointing that even when their president and commander-in-chief Salva Kiir declares a ceasefire, the regime’s forces still violate it,” Gabriel told AP.
“There is the possibility Salva Kiir is not in control of his forces or he doesn’t want peace to come,” he added.
Government spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny told AP the opposition attacked instead.
“They have a loose leadership; they’re not being controlled by anyone. The people of South Sudan should be given a chance to lead a peaceful life, and the army is observing the order of the president. It’s very sad,” Ateny was quoted as saying.
The previous ceasefire in December was violated within hours as well, prompting a new push by the international community to threaten UN and regional sanctions against those blocking the path to peace.
“Regardless of who started the attack it shows that the order that was given by the president and the order that was given by the head of the opposition to their forces, is not fully implemented,” said Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan.
“So, either it has not trickled down to the commanders on the ground or it did and no commander is listening.”