S. Sudan President Kiir Phones Machar in Bid to End Fighting

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir says he called rebel leader Riek Machar to urge him to pull back his troops after reports of fighting in parts of Yei River state.

Speaking Monday at a memorial service in Juba for the 20 victims of a plane crash last week in Eastern Lakes state, Kiir said government and SPLA-IO forces have been fighting for the past three days in parts of Yei River state.

He told the congregation he asked the chairman of the SPLA-IO to order his forces not to attack government troops for the sake of peace.

"It was my initiative to call him and ask him why he is still fighting us when we have signed the agreement. So I told him, 'What is this? Is it the acquisition of more territories? We have signed the agreement. I don't want us to go back to war again. So, you talk to your commanders in the field so that they don't attack us again,'" Kiir said.

Kiir, Machar and the leaders of other parties at the talks signed what they call a final, revitalized peace agreement last week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Kiir said the peace deal marks the end of five years of civil war.

"I want to personally assure you that the agreement we have just signed has ended the war. Your suffering provided the primary motivation for this government to pursue peace by all means necessary," Kiir told the congregation.

He called on the South Sudanese people to join the government and others in implementing the peace deal and to put their differences with other community members behind them.

"I want to appeal to all of you to accept and embrace this peace agreement [and forgive] your brothers and sisters from the opposition side and so that we close the dark chapter on the wall by forgiving each other. We give the chance to peace and prosperity of our peace and our nation," Kiir said.

According to the agreement, the parties are supposed to form a Joint Defense Command to include soldiers from the government side as well as from other armed groups.

The Cease-fire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSSAMM) confirmed there was fighting during the weekend in Yei town, and it is investigating reports of clashes between government and SPLA-IO forces in Yei River state.

In a Twitter post on Saturday, CTSAMM said it received reports of violations of the cease-fire agreement in the Yei area and reminded the parties of their commitment to refrain from any form of hostilities.

A civil society activist who prefers to be identified only as "Benson" for security reasons tells VOA's South Sudan In Focus that civilians fear for their lives.

"I see people who are kind of being reserved now in the way they talk, the way they walk, they do their things in town because people are having this suspicion that something at any time can happen," said the activist.

He says that since the beginning of the month, government and rebel forces have clashed in Lainya of Yei River state.

Benson says residents are questioning if the parties are serious about implementing the agreement signed last week.

Source: Voice of America