May 18, 2014 (JUBA) – Peace talks between South Sudan’s rival groups have been postponed until 29 May amid continued disagreements over the presence of foreign troops, rebels and government officials have said.
- South Sudanese president Salva Kiir (L) and rebel leader Riek Machar (R) hold the hands of two clergymen during the opening prayer of the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement on 9 May 2014, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa (Photo: AFP/Zacharias Abubeker)
The delegations representing both sides are in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for peace talks, where they were discussing a file on reforms, transitional arrangements and the constitution in the hopes of signing a Declaration of Principles.
The talks are an attempt to resolve the five-month-old conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 1.3 million people after political tensions turned violent in mid-December last year.
The fighting has pitted forces loyal to president Salva Kiir’s government against rebels allied to the former vice-president, Riek Machar, comprising of a loose coalition of armed civilians mobilised mainly on the basis of ethnic affiliations and defectors from the army.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the east African regional bloc mediating the peace process, has confirmed the postponement of talks.
The latest delay comes after the signing of a fresh peace agreement on 9 May following a face to face meeting between Kiir and Machar – their first since the conflict erupted.
Hussein Maar Nyuot, a key member of the rebel delegation, told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the latest postponement of the talks was necessitated by the government delegation’s refusal to accept calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops which continue to remain in the country against the provision of an earlier peace deal signed in January.
“The mediation team decided to postpone the negotiation because it was proving difficult to move ahead, because of the insistence of the government delegation not to accept withdrawal of the foreign troops,” said Nyuot.
“It is this arrogance that we could not agree on the security matters because of foreign troops which continue to remain inside the country,” he added.
Information minister Michael Makuei Lueth who speaks for the government delegation confirmed the adjournment of the talks, blaming the rebels for making “unnecessary demands”.
Ugandan troops were deployed to the country following the outbreak of violence to provide military support to the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) says its troops will remain in South Sudan until IGAD deploys the proposed regional protection force.
The presence of foreign troops has been a contentious issue, with rebel forces accusing Uganda of meddling in the internal affairs of South Sudan.
Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia have also previously expressed their opposition to the presence of Ugandan troops in the new nation, with the latter saying their presence threatens regional peace and stability.
The South Sudanese government has also denied rebel claims that Sudanese rebels are fighting alongside the SPLA.
The denials followed the 8 May release of a report from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which found Sudanese rebels from Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had provided military support to government troops fighting rebellion in the country.