South Sudan faces ‘specter’ of famine, U.S., EU envoys warn


South Sudan faces possible famine if warring government and rebel forces do not heed a cease-fire deal they have signed, U.S. and EU envoys warned Thursday.

“The parties have failed to respect their commitment to the Jan. 23 cessation of hostilities,” said U.S. envoy Donald Booth at a meeting of regional leaders in Ethiopia on the conflict in the world’s youngest country.

“This failure has led to thousands of additional deaths and an ever worsening humanitarian situation, with South Sudan facing a possible famine,” he added.

South Sudan’s government has been at war with rebel groups since Dec. 15, when a clash between troops loyal to Kiir and those loyal to sacked Vice President Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting.

Over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighboring nations as refugees, according to the United Nations.

“If things continue as they are, the spectre of famine looms,” EU envoy Alexander Rondos said.

“The rains are coming, and if people cannot go and plant there will not be sufficient stocks within months . . . This should be a matter of the greatest urgency.”

Heavy fighting has continued despite the January deal, with the army on Thursday reporting continued clashes in the strategic oil city of Malakal, one of the hardest-fought battlegrounds in the conflict.

Both the U.S. and EU envoys were speaking at a special one-day summit in Addis Ababa of leaders from the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Leaders pleaded for the two sides to end the fighting.

“I strongly urge the warring parties to immediately cease hostilities as per their agreement,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

War crimes have been committed by all sides in the war, Human Rights Watch has warned, detailing widespread atrocities including widespread killing, rape and looting.

“Neither IGAD’s appeal for peace nor ours is about telling the parties what to do,” Booth added. “It is about appealing to them to do the right thing.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who hosted the talks, warned that “negotiations are about readiness to give and take,” as he opened the summit, which was attended by Kiir.

“We should say ‘no’ to spoilers who are not interested in peace,” Hailemariam said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has sent in troops to back Kiir’s forces and fight rebel troops, was also present.

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, whose nation is heavily dependent on the oil from landlocked South Sudan, which transits through Khartoum to the coast, was also at the meeting.