(Removes repetition in third paragraph)
By Carl Odera
JUBA, July 9 South Sudan's president on
Wednesday called on rebels to resume peace talks as the country
marked its third birthday with celebrations overshadowed by
fighting that has killed thousands and brought it to the verge
Clashes erupted in Juba in December pitting the government
forces of President Salva Kiir against supporters of his former
deputy and long-time rival Riek Machar. The conflict has
reopened deep ethnic tensions in the world's youngest country
which only won independence from Sudan in 2011.
Peace talks between Kiir and Machar produced few results
and stalled after they last met in Addis Ababa in May and agreed
on a ceasefire.
"Put down your guns and come home," Kiir said in the capital
Juba during a ceremony marking the anniversary of independence.
"I still renew my call upon him (Machar) to accept the logic
of peaceful resolution to the conflict so that we resolve this
The mood in Juba was markedly more muted than in 2011 when
joyous revellers sheathed in South Sudan flags thronged the
streets and danced the night away.
Three years on, a much smaller and reticent crowd listened
as the president gave an independence day address. An ongoing
curfew enforced by the army every day at 6 p.m. local time was
expected to further curtail any celebrations.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since clashes broke
out in Juba in December and violence spread to oil-producing
regions, slashing output by a third and crippling South Sudan's
The United Nations has warned the east African country faces
a catastrophic famine, with humanitarian agencies unable to
deploy food or medicine to many remote northern regions due to
Diplomats from Western powers who helped South Sudan gain
independence say neither Machar nor Kiir seem fully committed to
the peace talks, with both sides accusing the other of violating
Rebels have accused regional mediators of siding with Kiir's
regime and want Ugandan troops brought in to support government
forces to leave South Sudan.
"These demands will not take us anywhere, let us focus on
peace reconciliation and coming back together," Kiir said,
adding that Ugandan troops would stay.
"I will not order the Ugandan forces to leave South Sudan
until when we are secure and we know that our institutions are
being protected," he said.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)