East African leaders push for peace in South Sudan

Rwandese peacekeepers patrol in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) camp in Malakal, South Sudan in October 2014 (AFP Photo/Ali Ngethi) (AFP/File)

Juba (AFP) - East African leaders met South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday in the latest push to end over 10 months of a civil war that has devastated the young nation.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda visited the war-torn nation's capital on a one-day visit to discuss the "on-going peace process", a spokesman in Kiir's office told AFP.

All are members of regional east Africa's IGAD bloc which has mediated currently stalled talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are hosting 467,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled the war. Uganda has also sent in troops to back Kiir's forces.

Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million have fled fighting between government troops, mutinous soldiers and ragtag militia forces divided along tribal lines.

As leaders left later on Wednesday, an IGAD communique gave no details about the meeting but praised both Kiir and his arch-rival rebel chief Riek Machar for their "courageous and visionary leadership".

On Monday, Kiir and sacked vice-president Machar said they accepted mutual responsibility for the war, in which civilians have been massacred, patients murdered in hospitals and people killed sheltering in churches.

It was their first meeting since signing a ceasefire accord in August. They agreed to reunite the divided ruling party.

The August ceasefire, like three previous agreements, swiftly collapsed.

Almost 100,000 people are sheltering in squalid UN peacekeeping bases fearing they will be killed if they leave.

The UN special envoy on sexual violence Zainab Bangura has said this month the levels of rape are the worst she had ever seen.

Political and military leaders have repeatedly broken promises made under intense international pressure, including during visits to South Sudan by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Earlier this month, a group of 19 major aid agencies warned that while massive food drops had helped avert famine for now, the threat remained, and the risk grew greater the longer the war continues.