March 25, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s government delegation said on Tuesday that its stance on talks with opposition forces “remains unchanged”, describing reports it had dropped demands for seven senior political figures to be excluded from negotiations as “lies” .
- The leader of South Sudan’s government delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial (L), signs a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending conflict in the country following negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 23 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Birahnu Sebsibe)
“The rumour mongers are spreading the lies that the government had abandoned its position to allow [the] participation of the seven former detainees. This is not true,” spokesperson for the government delegation Michael Makuei Lueth said on Tuesday in a statement broadcast from the Ethiopian capital, from Addis Ababa, by the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV).
Dialogue resumed on Tuesday despite demands from the government that talks be limited to representatives from the ruling party (SPLM) and the South Sudanese army (SPLA); and the rebels – known as the SPLM/A in Opposition, which was formed in December from army defectors and disaffected politicians.
Lueth said the government had since reiterated its position during a consultative meeting on Tuesday with envoys from the Intergovermental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating negotiations.
Lueth said the government was willing to consider the participation of other groups in national dialogue inside the country once talks between the two warring parties had concluded.
“The government position on the participation of the seven former detainees has not changed and it will never change until a solution is found. There will be an all inclusive dialogue after the conclusion of the talks, they can participate in this forum if they want,” said Lueth.
The group of seven politicians were jailed in connection to their alleged role in a ‘coup’ attempt in mid-December when political tensions erupted in violence in the capital, Juba, before spreading to key regions throughout the country.
Former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar and his supporters are accused of orchestrating the plot to overthrow the government. They deny the allegations.
The seven SPLM leaders were later released in accordance with an initial peace pact signed in Addis Ababa on 23 January to allow them to participate in talks. However, the group decided to form a third bloc rather than join Machar’s delegation, despite having similar political grievances.
The government delivered an official letter of protest to IGAD less than 24 hours before the next round of talks were due to get underway on 20 March, in which they threatened to boycott discussions unless the group of seven are barred from taking part.
The January ceasefire deal has failed to halt fighting on the ground, with both sides accusing each other of violating the terms of the agreement.
The UN has warned that the country is facing a potentially “catastrophic” humanitarian situation.
Nearly 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 3.7 million who are at high risk of food insecurity, John Ging, the director of UN humanitarian operations, told reporters in New York following a visit to South Sudan last week.