By The Independent Team
Leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia arrived in South Sudan on Thursday to try and mediate between the country’s president and the political rivals he accuses of attempting a coup that the government insists sparked violence that has threatened to destroy the world’s newest country.
Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Thursday.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “good progress” was made, with further talks scheduled to take place in Nairobi on Friday that will include othe East African leaders.
Violence erupted in the world’s youngest country 13 days ago between forces loyal to Mr Kiir and those backing his ex-deputy Riek Machar.
World leaders have urged the country’s leaders to stop the violence in which thousands are feared killed. The United States, Norway and Ethiopia are leading efforts to open peace talks between Kiir and his political rivals.
The UN said the first peacekeeping reinforcements were expected to arrive in South Sudan by Saturday.
The UN Security Council agreed Tuesday to nearly double the size of its mission known as UNMISS, allowing for up to 12,500 soldiers and 1,300 police, after the violence sparked on December 15 and raged out of control.
Thousands of people have died, according to the United Nations, and tens of thousands of civilians are seeking protection at UN bases in the country.
The United States, which was instrumental in South Sudan winning independence, has reiterated it will cut off aid if Kiir is ousted in a coup.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said a mass grave had been found in rebel-held Bentiu and cited reports of at least two more in Juba, the capital. Around 15 bodies were found in one site in Bentiu, and another 20 bodies at a nearby river, she said.
The UN mission in Juba was more cautious, confirming 15 killed but saying it was still “investigating reports of such atrocities”.
China meanwhile said it would soon dispatch its special envoy for African affairs to South Sudan to make contact with all sides and help the situation quickly return to stability.