JUBA, May 2 – US Secretary of State John Kerry flew in to war-torn South Sudan on Friday in an effort to bring about a ceasefire and halt the country’s slide towards genocide and famine.
The unannounced visit is seen as the most determined push yet for a truce in the four-month-old civil war, which has seen the world’s youngest nation collapse amid a brutal cycle of war crimes including widespread ethnic massacres, rape and child soldier recruitment.
On arrival in Juba, Kerry headed into a meeting with President Salva Kiir, an AFP correspondent said. READ: UN vows to prevent ‘another Rwanda’ in South Sudan.
US officials said he would also be holding telephone talks with rebel leader Riek Machar, and brandishing the threat of targeted sanctions against both sides in the conflict.
“Secretary Kerry will reiterate the need for all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement (and) to immediately cease attacks on civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
He will also urge warring factions to “fully cooperate with the United Nations and humanitarian organisations to protect civilians and to provide life-saving assistance to the people of South Sudan,” Psaki added.
Outrage is mounting over the scale of killings in South Sudan, with both government forces loyal to President Kiir and rebels backing ex-vice president Machar implicated in a string of atrocities.
Last month hundreds of people were massacred by rebels in the northern oil-hub of Bentiu – including in churches, mosques and hospitals – while a pro-government mob shot dead dozens of unarmed civilians sheltering in a UN base in the town of Bor.
The United States has also been under pressure to intervene, having been a key backer of South Sudan’s push for independence from Khartoum and having poured in billions of dollars in aid to the country since it split from Sudan in 2011.