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Kiir declares a state of emergency in Jonglei, Unity states

January 2, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in two of the country’s states, ordering the national army (SPLA) to fight dissident rebels.

The South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

The South Sudanese government said in a short statement released via Twitter on Wednesday that a state of emergency has been declared in its Unity and Jonglei states.

"President Salva [Kiir] has declared the state of emergency in Unity and Jonglei", the tweet read.

The president, under the country’s transitional constitution, has powers to declare a state of emergency in consultation with the national legislative assembly and appoint a caretaker government in the affected area under the leadership of a military officer.

It remains unclear what necessitated the president’s impromptu decision, which could partly be linked to the presence of dissident rebels fighting government forces in the two strategic areas.

The president’s new directive comes as ceasefire talks between South Sudan rebels and government get underway in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) leaders.

Observers and independent analysts, however, wonder whether more troops on the ground would make any difference to the already worrying situation as the military continues losing military battles in some key towns.

Kiir also formed a crisis management committee, headed by vice president James Wani Igga, urging politicians in the affected areas to cooperate with the armed forces and other security organs.

This is the first time the president has officially declared the state of emergency in the country, weeks after a curfew was imposed in the capital, Juba following violent clashes that erupted mid-December between members of the presidential guards.

Edmund Yakani, a civil society activist welcomed the state of emergency declaration, but said the new directive should not hamper humanitarian operations in those areas.

"We hope that it [can not be used for covering up military engagement", said Yakani, the Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO).

More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 200,000 displaced after violence broke out in Juba and quickly spread to several states, cleaving the nation along the ethnic faultline of rebel leader Riek Machar’s Nuer and President Kiir’s Dinka tribes.