By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 27, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese rebels led by the country’s former vice president Riek Machar on Thursday warned that they could boycott peace talks, to end the over three months of conflict, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The warning by the opposition group comes after Uganda, whose troops are in direct combat against Riek Machar’s forces having intervened along side the SPLM government at the start of the conflict, over a proposal to for the country to participate in the talks as an observer.
The head of the rebel’s negotiating team, General Taban Deng Gai, in a statement said that his team rejects "in the strongest terms possible" the participation of Uganda as an observer at the peace process which is being mediated by East African regional bloc - the Intergovernmental Authority Development (IGAD).
"The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) is fighting alongside the government of South Sudan’s forces; and therefore it’s a party to the conflict which disqualifies them as a peace mediator" said Gai.
However the rebel group – known as the SPLM/A in Opposition – said it has no objection to the participation of Uganda alongside the government of Salva Kirr’s negotiating delegation.
Gai reaffirmed his team’s commitment to continue participating at the peace process on the condition that Uganda, which also a member state of IGAD, is not allowed to participate.
Ethiopia, who have been hosting the talks, have been the chief mediators.
"Uganda cannot be both the prosecutor and the judge at the same time" Deng said as face to face talks between the South Sudanese government and rebels resumed Thursday in Addis Ababa.
Sudan Tribune has learnt that there is diverging position on the agenda of the negotiations.
The SPLM/A in Opposition wants to discuss interim arrangements, swift reforms and the restructuring of public services, security, the economy, foreign policy and systems of governance.
The government, however, seems reluctant to discuss restructuring and wider reforms.
The two sides signed a ceasefire deal on 23 January but it has been seriously violated by both sides.
Over 700,000 people have been displaced and an estimated 10,000 people have died since soldiers backing president Kiir and those supporting Riek Machar clashed in Juba on December 15, precipitating a split in the army and ruling party.