UK sends aid flight to South Sudan as talks try to end weeks of bloodshed

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.

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 been forced to flee, arrived in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, yesterday 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 those backing his sacked deputy Riek Machar.

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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.

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

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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.

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