By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 8, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Direct peace talks taking place in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, between the South Sudanese government and rebel representatives have stalled, dashing hopes of a speedy ceasefire agreement.
- South Sudanese president Salva Kiir holds discussions in his office in Juba with his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, on Boxing Day ahead of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa (Photo: AFP)
The two sides failed to make any progress after they were unable to break the deadlock over the release of political prisoners being held by the government in connection with an alleged fail coup attempt.
The detainees include senior figures from South Sudan’s ruling Sudan people’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), including former secretary-general Pagan Amum.
The breakdown in talks comes amid renewed fighting between government and renegade soldiers in strategic towns of the country, threatening to plunge the world’s newest nation in to an all-out civil war.
MORE UGANDAN TROOPS
The spokesman for the rebel delegation in Ethiopia, Brigadier General Lul Raui Kong, said neighbouring Uganda has deployed more troops to South Sudan to protect major installations, including the airport.
He said the troops were deployed to South Sudan on Monday and Tuesday following a request by president Salva Kiir.
Violence broke out in South Sudan on 15 December after clashes between rival factions of the presidential guard.
Kiir has implicated his former deputy Riek Machar in the plot, with violence spreading throughout the country and dividing along tribal loyalties.
Peace talks, brokered by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), began on Tuesday, but have already been plagued by a series of delays since the negotiating teams arrived in Addis Ababa a week ago.
Rebel representatives have insisted that all prisoners be released before truce negotiations can begin - a demand repeatedly rejected by South Sudan’s government.
The two warring sides are facing mounting international pressure to resolve the conflict.
REBEL DEMANDS REJECTED
However, South Sudan maintains it is not willing to accept any rebel preconditions detrimental to negotiations seeking an end to the conflict.
South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, reiterated his government’s stance ahead of the closed-door talks, saying “We are ready for talks without conditions”.
He stressed that political detainees aligned with Machar would be required to answer the allegations as required under South Sudanese law.
Ethiopian officials said on Wednesday that the regional bloc had sent a special envoy to South Sudan for talks with government leaders on the possible release of the remaining nine political prisoners.
Meanwhile, Kong alleges that Ugandan military jets are bombing rebel-controlled areas, but Kampala denies the claims, saying its troops are not involved in the fighting.
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, a close ally of Kiir, has warned Machar against rejecting the ceasefire offer, raising questions of bias.
He said if Machar failed to reach an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, IGAD member states would unite to defeat him.
The UN estimates at least 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 200,000 displaced in South Sudan’s worst-ever post-independence conflict.