By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 11, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn called on the South Sudan’s leaders to demonstrate the political will needed to end the internal crisis in the young nations before the country becomes the the centre of regional conflict.
- Ethiopian Prime Minister (C) Hailemariam Desalegn attend the opening of peace talks at Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa with his foreign minister and the AU representative, the three mediator and South Sudan government and rebel chief negotiators, on 11 February 2014 (Photo IGAD)
Desalegn, who is currently the Chairman of the East Africa regional bloc (IGAD) mediating peace talks between the warring parties in South Sudan, made the remarks at the opening of the second round of peace talks, which resumed late on Tuesday in Addis Ababa.
"You [the two parties] shouldn’t unwittingly allow your hard won independence to wither away and your beloved country to become a hotbed of yet another regionalised proxy conflict with no end in sight" he said.
On Monday the Ethiopian Prime Minister became the first regional country to criticise Uganda - an IGAD member state - for deploying troops to fight alongside the South Sudan army (SPLA) against the rebels, known as the SPLM/A in Opposition.
Desalegn welcomed the release of the seven senior politicians who were released to Kenya last week, having been held since the beginning of the conflict accused of playing a part in the alleged coup attempt that triggered current crisis.
Four senior figures in South Sudan’s ruling party remain in custody, including the SPLM’s former Secretary General who President Salva Kiir has excommunicated from the party along with his former deputy Riek Machar who is leading the rebellion.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister stressed that all political actors should quickly embark on the second phase with "an open heart and mutual trust", adding that neither party should use "side issues as an excuse to prevaricate on the negotiation process which could wreak havoc through the overall peace process."
South Sudan government and rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar singed a shaky ceasefire agreement on 23 January in Addis Ababa, however, sporadic fighting has continued.
Despite the resumption of the new round of talks, representatives of South Sudan Government and the SPLM in Opposition have continued to trade accusations that the other has violated the ceasefire deal.
"The government of the Republic of South Sudan has delivered on its commitment to honour the cessation of hostilities agreement, however we are deeply disappointed and dismayed by the flagrant and repeated violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement by the other party," said Nihal Deng Nihal, chief negotiator of the Government of South Sudan.
In order to reap the benefits of the first round of negotiations, Nihal stressed an urgent need for the formation of a joint technical committee along with its key implementing partners such as the monitoring and verification team as per the cessation of hostilities agreement signed last month.
Rebel chief negotiator Taban Deng, however, held the South Sudanese army and Ugandan forces responsible for the violations of the truce, which was aimed to pave way for talks to end the conflict that has already killed thousands and forced nearly one million people to flee their homes.
IGAD chief negotiator, Ethiopia’s former minister for foreign affairs, Seyoum Mesfin, called on all the political actors to be solution-oriented and rise to the occasion for the sake of the interests of the South Sudanese people.
"With a need for a paradigm shift there are some very clear general guidelines that need to be implemented, and urgently. This includes abandonment of the wartime frame of mind and the transformation of institutions of ethnic conflict into institutions that serve the democratic and development aspirations of the peoples of South Sudan."
Mesfin added, the ongoing negotiations shouldn’t be an instrument for tactical reasons but offer framework for the major actors to secure a durable political solution.
From his side, the representative of the South Sudan Council of Churches called on the two parties to end the conflict and achieve a sustainable peace adding "we are tired of War!"
Rebel sources told Sudan Tribune that the seven former detainees now in Kenya are expected to arrive in Addis Ababa on Wednesday to join the talks.
The SPLM political leaders were barred from heading to join Addis Ababa talks on Sunday after Kenyan government prevented them from travelling arguing their bail terms meant they were not allowed to leave Kenyan territory.
The fresh round of talks focusing on political dialogue and national reconciliation are expected to continue on Wednesday.