UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] issued a statement [text; press release] Saturday commending the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for its mediation efforts in South Sudan, which resulted in a ceasefire last week. IGAD released a communique [text; PDF] on Friday condemning the escalating violence and calling "on all parties to refrain from steps that will inflame the conflict further particularly along ethnic and sectarian lines and particularly strongly condemns the bankrupt and opportunistic ideology of ethnic and religious sectarianism." The government of South Sudan [official website] on Friday offered [JURIST report] to immediately cease fighting with the rebels, but warned that its forces would not hesitate to defend themselves in the event of an attack. Violence erupted in South Sudan after ethnic Dinka, loyal to President Salva Kiir [BBC profile], and Nuer soldiers, following former vice president Riek Machar [Al Arabya profile], clashed on December 15.
The conflict in the world's youngest nation has been characterized by unconscionable ethnic and sectarian violence. UN officials stated on Tuesday that they have found three mass grave sites [UK Guardian report] and believe that the death toll of the conflict may already be in the thousands. The US government deployed 150 military personnel [JURIST report] on Monday in preparation of possible evacuation of US citizens from South Sudan. Over 300 US citizens had already been evacuated as of the deployment. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) [official website] began evacuating [JURIST report] all non-critical staff from Juba earlier this month after a UNMISS base was assaulted, killing 20 ethnic Dinka civilians and two UN peacekeepers. In April, prior to the current conflict, UNMISS issued a report [JURIST report] urging the South Sudan government to do more to protect civilians from violence. South Sudan is the world's youngest sovereign nation, having just celebrated the first anniversary of its independence [JURIST report] last July.