South Sudan rebel leader says President Kiir tried to arrest rivals

Riek Machar denied he was leading a coup drive, but wishes to see President Kirr overthrown

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South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar on Monday accused President Salva Kiir of seeking to arrest rivals during a high-level meeting attended by the country’s top leaderships.

Machar, who was speaking to Al Arabiya News Channel from an unknown location, dismissed accusation that he was leading a coup attempt against President Kiir.

But the rebel leader said he wishes to overthrow the President “if possible.”

“Salva Kiir is the source of divisions in South Sudan and his government is responsible for the crimes committed in Juba,” said Machar, the former vice president

Rebel and government representatives gathered in Ethiopia on Thursday to begin peace talks as rebel forces continued to advance towards the capital Juba.

President Kiir declared a state of emergency late on Wednesday in Unity state and Jonglei, whose respective provincial capitals of Bentiu and Bor are in the hands of militia loyal to former vice president Machar, according to Reuters.

International pressure for a peace deal is mounting. Neighboring countries mediating between the two warring sides have warned that continued fighting could scupper talks.

Oil-producing South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after more than 20 years of civil war.

But the country has been wracked by almost three weeks of fighting between government forces and those loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar. The violence is feared to have killed thousands of people and displaced some 200,000 others.

The landlocked country in northeastern Africa is populated by 10.8 million people scattered over an area about the size of France.

It shares borders with volatile countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Half the population is under 18 and almost three-quarters under the age of 30.

There are more than 200 ethnic groups. Among the largest groups are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk. President Salva Kiir is from the biggest tribe, the Dinka.

Political rivalry between Kiir and former deputy Machar, a Nuer, goes back decades. In July, Kiir fired Machar and dissolved the cabinet.

Opposition parties are only a tiny minority in a parliament controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

South Sudan is awash with weapons and armed groups, some historically allied to Juba and others former proxies for the government of Sudan.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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