- From left: IGAD’s executive secretary Mahmoud Maalim, acting head of the South Sudan delegation, Makuei Lueth, IGAD special envoys Lazarus Sumbeiywo, Seyoum Mesfim and Mohamed Ahmed al-Dabi, head of South Sudan’s rebel delegation Taban Deng hold a joint press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 6 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Carl De Souza)
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 15, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese government and rebel forces are edging closer to signing a peace deal, with sources saying an agreement on the cessation of hostilities could be reached as early as Thursday.
Peace talks between delegations from the South Sudanese government and rebel representatives resumed on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
There has been no official announcement from regional mediators on the progress of Wednesday’s face-to face-talks between the two conflicting parties.
However, sources close to the ongoing peace talks told Sudan Tribune that the two parties are close to reaching an agreement.
Rebel representatives in Addis Ababa and government officials in Juba have declined Sudan Tribune’s requests for comment.
The sources said the two negotiating parties have agreed to discuss the two key issues of cessation of hostilities and the release of political prisoners separately.
The move is seen a breakthrough, as the rebels rejected to engage talks on the cessation of hostilities before to release 11 political detainees including Pagan Amum, Deng Alor and other prominent figures in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
Peace talks brokered by the regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) began nearly two weeks ago, but warring parties have so far struggled to reach a speedy ceasefire agreement
There has been no let up in the violence, which has spread across the country since clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December between rival tribe members within the presidential guards.
Head of the IGAD mediation team, Seyoum Mesfin, said on Wednesday that the preconditions set by the two sides have become a major obstacle to sealing a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending ongoing fighting in South Sudan.
Talks stalled last week after the rebel delegation insisted that 11 senior political figures who have been detained in connection with the alleged coup attempt be released before any peace deal is signed.
Although the government initially agreed to unconditional talks, it has refused to release the prisoners, saying they must answer the charges in court, as required under South Sudanese law.
Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, refused to comment on the progress of talks on Wednesday, but said he would make a statement to the media on Thursday.
The conflict in South Sudan has increasingly splintered along tribal lines, with forces loyal to the president and pro-Machar supporters fighting for control of strategic areas across the country.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) has said the number of dead from the conflict was nearing 10,000, with the UN putting the death toll at more than 1,000, although the agency has acknowledged that the true figure was likely to be “substantially” higher.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced inside South Sudan, including about 60,000 taking shelter at UN compounds around the country. Some 30,000 refugees have also fled to neighbouring countries, including Uganda and Sudan.