International community slams fresh call for war in South Sudan
Nairobi (AFP) - The international community on Thursday hit out at a call from South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar for renewed war with the government, raising concerns about heavy fighting in recent weeks.
Machar, the former vice president, last month urged "a popular armed resistance" against his rival Salva Kiir's government, in a statement from Khartoum where he is in exile.
In a joint statement, the European Union, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom, together with Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, condemned "calls by opposition leaders for a renewal of armed conflict".
"Further fighting will not solve South Sudan's pressing political and economic challenges. It will only increase the suffering of South Sudan's people, worsen a grave humanitarian crisis, and further inflame ethnic tensions."
South Sudan plunged into conflict in 2013 -- two years after attaining a hard-won independence -- when Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Machar of plotting a coup d'etat.
A patchily implemented August 2015 peace deal saw Machar return to the capital earlier this year to resume his role in government, but fresh fighting between his forces and soldiers loyal to Kiir erupted in July.
Machar fled to Khartoum, and his former ally Taban Deng Gai took up his position as vice-president, although it is unclear whether Machar's armed rebels have also switched sides.
100,000 people trapped
Violence has continued in parts of the country, and the United Nations said last week that around 100,000 people were trapped in Yei, 150 kilometres (93 miles) southwest of Juba, near the borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Government forces surrounding the town suspect residents of siding with opposition forces, according to the UN refugee agency.
"We are deeply concerned by heavy fighting around the country in recent weeks, including near Yei, Wau, Bentiu, and Nassir," read the joint statement, citing reports of widespread violence against civilians.
The fresh violence in July sent tens of thousands fleeing the country, pushing the number of refugees from the war-scarred nation past the one million mark.
The UN Security Council voted in August to send a 4,000-strong regional protection force to Juba.
Kiir's government initially opposed the plan, and while it publicly committed to it in September, stands accused of dragging its feet over allowing the deployment.
The Security Council has threatened to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan if the government blocks the regional force or impedes the work of UN peacekeepers.