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S. Sudan civil societies push for inclusion in peace talks

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By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

March 16, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – A group of South Sudanese civil society organisations are meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on ways they can play a role in ending a three-month-old conflict in the youngest African nation.

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South Sudan’s civil sociey organisations are calling for a greater role in peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, aimed at ending the three-month-old conflict (Photo: Larco Lomayat)

An estimated 20,000 people have been killed and almost one million displaced since conflict erupted in mid-December.

Since the conference kicked off on Friday, organisations have been holding consultations on how to advocate and lobby for the inclusion of civil society in the ongoing peace process, mediated by the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

The four-day meeting aims to pressure the two warring parties to end the violence, to respect a ceasefire agreement signed on 23 January, allow unhindered humanitarian access to civilians in affected areas and to expedite the peace process in cooperation with civil society actors.

“Civil society represents the voice of the voiceless. We are here to send strong messages to our leaders that, there is still room to negotiate a peace deal that shall embody and safeguard the values of justice, rule of law, federal democracy and good governance, accountability and transparency,” Steven Puoch, president of the National Youth Union, told Sudan Tribune.

DISCUSSION THEMES

Civil society representatives forwarded their presentations on Sunday after holding group discussions on five thematic issues.

The issues discussed included constitutional, economic and security sector reforms, as well as humanitarian assistance, national reconciliation, justice and healing.

Participants also held round table discussions with US and UK envoys, Donald Booth and Tim Morris, as well as with IGAD representative Mohamed Guyo on the participation of civil society organisations in the peace negotiations brokered by the regional bloc.

Civil society groups voiced a unified position to the two envoys that the ongoing peace process embraces a broad inclusive dialogue and reconciliation process with the participation of South Sudanese people.

“This is a political problem which requires [a] political solution. We need [an] inclusive process which will bring everybody on board, including the remaining four detainees still in government custody,” said Puoch.

Participants also raised questions about what role the International community should play in resolving the crisis.

Other issues that were brought forward for debate included the intervention of Ugandan forces, the cessation of hostilities agreement, which continues to be violated by both sides, as well as targeted sanctions on individuals found to be responsible for human rights abuses and other crimes.

LEADERS CRITICISED

Forum participants have accused the leadership of South Sudan of being responsible for the ongoing violence, killings and displacement.

“Leaders always don’t want to be blamed for failure to protect their own citizens. It is not [a] surprise if the government and the [rebel] SPLM-in-Opposition don’t like this independent gathering of civil society,” Puoch said.

Civil society representatives have collectively called on parties to the conflict to lay aside their personal differences in the interests of a stable and united South Sudan, saying peace talks must continue without any conditions.

Thirty-two civil society organisations working both inside and outside South Sudan are taking part in the conference, comprising of representatives from youth, women, religious, mass media, development, social services and empowerment groups.

Sudan Tribune has learnt that some civil society members were unable to take part in the conference due to financial constraints.

There have also been claims that some organisations were blocked by the Juba government from travelling to Ethiopia to participate, although Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify these reports.

(ST)

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