The federal government is withdrawing diplomatic staff from South Sudan amid growing concern over violent clashes in the world’s newest country.
The move comes as South Sudan’s government on Friday pledged to end hostilities, regional leaders said at the end of a crisis summit, raising hopes for a potential breakthrough in efforts to cease violence that has displaced more than 120,000 people.
East African leaders meeting in Kenya under a bloc called IGAD said in a statement Friday that they “welcomed the commitment by [South Sudan’s government] to an immediate cessation of hostilities.”
But former vice-president Riek Machar, President Salva Kiir’s political rival who is accused of orchestrating a failed coup that the government says sparked unrest across the oil-producing country, was not represented at the summit in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
The leaders’ joint statement said Mr. Machar is urged to “make similar commitments” to end hostilities.
Mr. Machar, the alleged leader of renegade forces now in control of some parts of South Sudan, remains a fugitive wanted by the military. At least 10 of his political allies are in detention for their roles in the alleged coup plot. Mr. Machar denies there was a coup attempt, and some officials with the ruling party insist violence broke out when presidential guards from Mr. Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe tried to disarm guards from the Nuer ethnic group of Mr. Machar, leading to wider military clashes along ethnic lines.
In a speech at the Nairobi summit, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had noted that there is “a very small window of opportunity to secure peace” in South Sudan, where fighting since Dec. 15 has raised fears of full-blown civil war.
It is those fears which have prompted Ottawa to withdraw diplomatic staff.
Canada’s head of office in South Sudan, who normally works out of Juba, will relocate temporarily to the Canadian<QL> high commission in Nairobi, according to a statement from the department. Other diplomatic staff and their families have also been told to leave South Sudan.
“The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of our diplomats abroad very seriously,” says a written statement from Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. “Due to operational challenges, including the unpredictable security environment in Juba, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada has authorized the temporary suspension of operations at our office in Juba.”
Ottawa began advising Canadians to leave South Sudan on Dec. 18, as violence in the country grew worse. The government says it is aware of 76 Canadians who were evacuated from the country on military and charter flights and another 52 who left the country on commercial and private flights since the violence began.
About 100 Canadians are registered with the Canadian government as being in South Sudan, but there are likely others who did not register.
With reports from Associated Press