January 11, 2014 (JUBA/ADDIS ABABA) – Regional mediators from the East African regional bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) arrived in South Sudan on Saturday after ongoing peace talks in the Ethiopian capital stalled.
- United States special envoy to Sudans Donald Booth (not shown) together with IGAD’s mediators Ethiopian former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin (L), Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Moustafa El Dabi (R) at an undisclosed location in South Sudan to meet former VP Riek Machar January 11, 2014 (Photo: Handout by Machar negotiators)
The peace talks between representatives of President Salva Kiir former vice president-turned rebel, Riek Machar, were suspended after disagreements over the sensitive issue of political prisoners.
Negotiators on rebel side have insisted on the release of the presumably pro-Machar political figures before signing any peace agreement thus dashing regional and international hopes of reaching a speedy ceasefire pact.
Rebels said they won’t sign truce that doesn’t ensure the release of the 11 political figures that remain detained in connection with an alleged coup attempt in mid-December, a demand once again rejected by government delegations.
Those held by South Sudan government include
Deng Alor, former minister of cabinet affairs
Pagan Amum, former SPLM secretary general
Cirino Iteng, former minister of culture
Madut Biar Yel, former minister for telecommunication and postal services
Oyai Deng Ajak, former minister for national security in the office of the president
Majak D’ Agoot, former deputy minister of defence
Chol Tong Magay, former governor of Lakes state
Ezekiel Gatkuoth Lul, former ambassador to the United States
John Luk Jok, former justice minister
Kosti Manibe, former minister of finance
Gier Chuang Aluong, former minister of roads and bridges
South Sudan government representatives, including the country’s information minister told journalists in Addis Ababa that the detainees are perpetrators of a coup and their case should be handled by domestic courts and in accordance to the laws of the land.
“President Kiir will not order the release of the political prisoners. If he did so it will be an act contrary to constitution of the country,” a South Sudan government representative who asked anonymity told Sudan Tribune.
A United States on Friday said it saw no evidence of an attempted coup.
“We have not seen any evidence of a coup attempt,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The violence was “an armed rebellion” against the government, she added.
After peace talks were delayed, mediators led by Ethiopian former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin on Saturday left for South Sudan to meet and convince Machar to sign a truce to end weeks of violence that has hit the world’s newest nation.
Rebel negotiators here in Addis Ababa are not optimistic that IGAD mediators would return from South Sudan with a fruitful outcome.
“They [mediators] will return with a complete dismissal” Gérard Prunnier, a scholar who is close to rebel negotiators team, told Sudan Tribune.
When asked when talks would resume Prunnier said he doesn’t think the two sides would return for face to face talks further accusing the international community of “bias”
He said the international community is taking side of Juba after government army made important military gains on the ground particularly after retaking Unity state capital of Bentiu.
“The international community is saying Machar is defeated and he has to surrender” said Prunnier.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has urged South Sudan government to release political prisoners so as ceasefire deal is facilitated.
Analysts say South Sudan could face sanctions if the two warring sides fail to seal a peace deal but the government in Juba argues any possible sanctions imposed on the country would be considered as a move of cooperation with rebels.
Fighting in South Sudan which erupted in mid-December has left an estimated 1,500 people killed and forced about 200,000 flee their home.