, JUBA, Sep 23 – South Sudan has begun negotiations and agreed a ceasefire with a militia leader heading a rebellion in the troubled eastern Jonglei state, the south’s army spokesman said on Thursday.
Soldiers have been tracking rebel commander David Yauyau, who sparked an uprising in the Pibor area of Jonglei after alleging fraud in national and local elections in April, accusing the southern ruling party of corruption.
"Yauyau was the one who started the fight, but now it seems he has learnt the wisdom that it is better to solve disagreements through peaceful settlement," said Major General Kuol Diem Kuol, of the former rebel turned official Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
"He has approached the local authorities in Pibor to start talks and called for a ceasefire, which has been agreed by SPLA headquarters to allow negotiations to go ahead."
Yauyau, from the Murele ethnic group, is not believed to have major military forces but is seen as a destabilising threat as the south gears up for a referendum on its potential full independence due in January.
Two other rebel commanders are also being sought by the south.
In June, the SPLA said renegade colonel Galwak Gai had fled from Unity state into the key oil field of Heglig, to sections controlled by northern military forces.
A third, George Athor, a senior southern officer who began a rebellion after losing the gubernatorial race in Jonglei and who Gai loyalists are thought to be close to, is also still on the run.
The southern army accuses the rebels of acting on behalf of former civil war enemies in Khartoum in a bid to destabilise southern Sudan ahead of the upcoming referendum, a charge denied by the central government.
Kuol said he hoped the ceasefire would lead to the end of the rebellion.
"We are hoping that Yauyau is honest in his intentions in calling for a ceasefire, and not using this as a manipulative tactic to buy more time," the SPLA official added.
"We believe that sitting down to talk over problem matters is a better solution that just jumping to a gun," he said.
South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war with the north, during which about two million people were killed in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources, including oil.
More than 800 people have been killed and over 222,000 people have been forced from their homes in the south since January, according to UN estimates.
Despite disarmament efforts, guns remain common in Jonglei, an isolated and swampy state about the size of Austria and Switzerland combined but with limited mud roads often impassable for months during heavy rains.