Aid flight lands amid peace talks

Times Series: Thousands of families have had to leave their homes due to fighting in South Sudan (AP/Ben Curtis) Thousands of families have had to leave their homes due to fighting in South Sudan (AP/Ben Curtis)

An emergency relief flight carrying life-saving water and sanitation equipment has landed in South Sudan to help prevent a health crisis developing amid the conflict, International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced today.

The cargo of water pumps, hoses, water tanks and chemicals which is to be used to provide clean water to thousands of people who have forced to flee arrived in Juba, South Sudan's capital, this morning as high-stakes talks to try and end weeks of bloodshed finally began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Thousands have been killed in South Sudan and as many as 200,000 forced from their homes by fighting between troops loyal to president Salva Kiir and and those backing his sacked deputy Riek Machar.

Representatives of the warring factions are holding more advanced peace talks for the first time since conflict began in the country on December 15.

The talks are focusing on a ceasefire and the release of political prisoners. Gunfire was heard in Juba on Saturday night.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the beginning of direct talks was an important step, but that both sides need to put the interests of South Sudan above their own.

An immediate monitored ceasefire must be the top priority of peace negotiations between South Sudan's warring factions, according to Africa minister Mark Simmonds.

With access needed for humanitarian aid, he described the situation as still being of "grave concern" and urged the parties to show flexibility.

Today's emergency supplies, provided by Oxfam and funded by the International Development department, is in addition to the £12.5 million of emergency assistance from Department For International Development announced in December 2013, to provide funding for clean water, health care and temporary shelter.

The task is to try and stop a secondary health crisis from striking.

Ms Greening said: "We continue to assess the situation on the ground and stand ready to deliver further humanitarian assistance."

Mr Simmonds described the launch of the formal peace talks as a "constructive step," adding: "An immediate agreement to a monitored cessation of hostilities must be the priority.

"It's important that detainees are released quickly and with due process, to help ensure a successful dialogue.

"I welcome the pivotal role of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and regional leaders, including Ethiopia, in helping to bring the two sides together," he added - saying the UK the UK, US, Norway and other countries would "fully support this process".

He added: "I hope these talks will help deliver the peace all of South Sudan's people wish for."

Earlier, South Sudan's foreign minister said the government was "serious" about securing an end to the fighting, but warned that "compromise is for the other side".

Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the BBC that progress would require a recognition that the bloodshed was sparked by an "attempted coup" and that Mr Machar should pursue democratic means if he wanted to rule the country.

"Our side of the compromise is that we have accepted that there should be a negotiation.

"It is very important that we talk to each other in order to resolve this in the spirit of reconciliation and in a spirit that will help our people to stop their suffering and the fighting going on."

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