January 23, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA/JUBA) – Hopes to sign a cessation of hostilities agreement between the South Sudanese government and the rebels, who are referred to as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Opposition, have slipped away with the rebels blaming the government for the “intransigence.”
- A Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier rests on the back of a truck in Malakal on 21 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
The two factions representing the government of Salva Kiir Mayardit and the rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar Teny have been negotiating in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the last three weeks under the mediation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), but with no progress.
The expected agreement on the cessation of hostilities has been delayed because the two parties could not yet agree on attaching the release of the political detainees as part of the immediate implementation of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Ugandan UPDF forces, said James Gatdet Dak, the spokesperson for Machar.
"A final draft on the cessation of hostilities has been worked out by the two parties in Addis Ababa. The draft calls for the withdrawal of the foreign troops of the neighbouring Uganda who were illegally invited to participate militarily in the internal affairs of South Sudan by non-other than the president Salva Kiir," Dak said.
He however decried the intransigent position of the president who appeared to maintain his refusal to neither withdraw the Ugandan forces nor release the political detainees.
"However, the clear messages we receive from the side of the government indicate that Kiir is not willing to agree on the withdrawal of the UPDF troops. He also doesn’t want to release the SPLM leaders whom he wrongfully detained in the capital," he further charged.
The spokesperson of the former vice-president added that both the withdrawal of the UPDF forces and the release of the detainees were genuine demands that should be effected simultaneously with the coming into effect of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
In Addis Ababa where the mediation struggle to finalise the cessation of hostilities deal, the government negotiating team did not come to the venue of talks Wednesday morning.
Sudan Tribune sought to get some explanation from the mediation but they refused to comment.
However, diplomatic sources in Addis said the parties were expected to sign the cessation of hostilities deal on Thursday afternoon.
Observers say the recent military advances by the South Sudanese army in Bor and Malakal give the government delegation greater leverage at the negotiating table.
South Sudanese officials say that government forces are now control all of the major towns previously under the rebels control and that the latter have lost the war.
REBELS REFUTE CLAIMS OF WEAKNESS
Dak refuted allegations that the rebels have been weakened and may not fight back against the government.
He further said the rebels have been reorganising their ranks and preparing for a big thrust against the government’s strategic positions, including the capital, if Juba continue to reject a ceasefire based on its clear, simple demands and terms.
"It would be a wrong assumption and regrettable mistake on the side of the government to reject the demands of the pro-democracy SPLM/A forces, putting it on the false hope and excitement that the democratic forces had lost the war," he said.
He claimed that the rebels tactically withdrew without a fight from the towns they previously captured, saying this was in order to reorganise for the next move if the cessation of hostilities agreement was not insight.
The rebel official went to accuse the government forces of killing civilians and destroying public and private properties.
"The pro-Kiir forces and their Ugandan mercenaries did not fight any body in those towns of Bentiu, Bor and Malakal. They just came in and went on rampage killing civilians, destroying the houses, burning them down, including dismantling the phone network system in the case of Malakal. That was the fight they did on the properties," he said.
South Sudanese president spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny, told a news conference in Juba on Wednesday that the rebels killed 127 patients in Bor hospital and destroyed houses and shops.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, South Sudanese president Salva Kiir refused to issue a presidential pardon to release the 11 political detainees indicating that he prefers they face justice.
"You cannot arrest somebody, release him without showing him or showing the world the mistake he committed, which led to the arrest," he said.