Juba - Ceasefire monitors have begun work in South Sudan, officials said on Monday, amid repeated claims both government and rebels are breaking a deal to stop weeks of bloodshed in which thousands have been killed.
Clashes continue despite the deal signed last month by government and rebels, brokered by the East African bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“Some monitors have come,” South Sudanese Vice-President James Wani Igga told reporters on Monday.
Thousands are believed to have been killed in the fighting pitting forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against a loose coalition of army defectors and ethnic militia nominally headed by sacked vice president Riek Machar, a seasoned guerrilla fighter.
The advance 14-person strong IGAD team - led by an Ethiopian general with a Sudanese deputy - arrived on Sunday and will report back on February 7 to IGAD special envoys in Ethiopia, when rival forces are due to restart peace talks.
IGAD teams are meant to ensure the warring sides honour their deal, but many fear the unarmed observers will struggle to monitor loose frontlines between multiple forces in a vast country with few roads.
The team will investigate “areas for possible deployment of the monitors”, IGAD said in a statement.
UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson on Friday warned the “cessation of hostilities is not holding 100 percent”, including some “very serious” breaches.
The government also dismissed rebel claims it was using mercenary forces to fight against them - including Sudanese and Congolese guerrillas - as lies.
“All these claims have no foundation at all,” Igga said, in turn accusing the rebels of “now training and recruiting” for further attacks.
Uganda, a key IGAD member, sent in troops to back President Salva Kiir days after fighting broke out.
But rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang has also accused South Sudan's government of using foreign fighters, including rebels from neighbouring war-torn Sudan.
Those include both fighters from Sudan's Darfur region, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), as well as Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N) rebels, from the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.
He also claimed that fighters from the M23 rebels of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the Rwandan militia who carried out the 1994 genocide and who are now based in DR Congo and known as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) were fighting on the government side.
It provides “clear indications that Kiir's government is not interested in peace but prepared for war” Koang added.