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S. Sudan rebels vow to continue armed struggle if talks fail

February 14, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA/JUBA) - An official from South Sudan’s rebel group on Friday said that they were committed to the peace process, but warned of continued armed struggle against government should the Addis Ababa talks fail.

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Seyoum Mesfin (L), chairperson of IGAD mediators, and Taban Deng Gai, the SPLM in Opposition’s chief negotiator, attend the resumption of South Sudan talks in Addis Ababa on 11 February 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

The second round of talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional leaders began this week. The previous deal, signed on 23 January, failed to bring an end to the fighting, which began on December 15.

The official from the SPLM/A-in-Opposition, which is led by South Sudan’s former vice-president Riek Machar said he is committed to bringing a peaceful political settlement to the crisis in South Sudan.

"We will continue our commitment to bring democracy and good governance to the country either through political dialogue as set out by IGAD or armed struggle" Bor Gatwech, a lawmaker and humanitarian liaison officer for the SPLM/A-in-Opposition told Sudan Tribune in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The remarks by the rebel official comes a day after the seven SPLM leaders freed from jail in South Sudan on January 29 and who have now joined the Addis Ababa peace talks on Thursday announced they would not ally themselves with either side.

The former detainees who called themselves ’SPLM leaders former detainees’ were expected to ally themselves with the rebels, but told press conference on Friday that they would instead participate at the peace talks as an independent third party.

The spokesperson of the SPLM/A-in-Opposition, Yohanis Pouk, told Sudan Tribune in Addis Ababa on Thursday that Machar’s delegation respected their decision.

However, some members of the rebel delegation appear to be unhappy with the decision of the former detainees whose release was secured after a peace pact signed last month.

"They [former detainees] have clearly stated we have the same political position during their press conference" Gatwech said adding, "But we don’t know what will benefit them or the country under this dispensation".

He claimed pressure from the international community prompted them to form a separate bloc.

The rebel delegation and the former detainees on Thursday both called for the release of the four remaining political detainees and the withdrawal of Ugandan forces who are battling forces who are fighting on the side of the South Sudanese army, warning that these issues would curtail efforts to bring durable political solution to the crises.

Juba is under pressure for failing to expedite the release of the four remaining political detainees who have been charged with treason along with three other political figures, including rebel leader, Machar.

SUCCESSFUL TALKS DEPEND ON RELEASE OF 4 DETAINEES

South Sudan’s former cabinet minister Deng Alor Kuol said the success of the talks depends on how President Salva Kiir’s government responds to demands for release of the remaining political detainees to allow them take part in the talks.

“Yes, we are in Addis [Ababa]. We came on Wednesday evening from Nairobi and we are now taking part in the talks as a group of our own," Kuol exclusively told Sudan Tribune Friday.

Blaming the two said for the armed conflict and the killing of thousands of civilians, Kuol further said they did not want to associate themselves with the warring parties.

"On our side, we see that this conflict should have been avoided from the start if we had listened to ourselves as leaders,” he said stressing, "What is important now is the release of four detainees if you want successful and meaning peace talks”.

The government in Juba has maintained that it would not release the remaining political detainees until all the investigations and other legal processes are completed and trial taken place.

"The government has repeatedly expressed commitment to resolving this conflict. Our delegation is already in the Addis. They have been there since Sunday because talks were supposed to start on Monday but we were surprised that the rebel gave preconditions for the negotiations", presidential spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny told reporters on Friday.

South Sudan’s foreign minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said in London this week that those detained by the government should be described as "suspected coup makers" rather than "political detainees" despite the fact that none of them have been charged with any crime.

The second phase of the talks focusing on political and national reconciliation is expected to resume on Saturday.

The venue of talks has moved to Debrezeit, a town outside the capital Addis Ababa. However, Sudan Tribune, understands that none of the delegations had not left for the resort town by Friday evening.

The talks were due to restart on Monday, but were delayed until the seven former political prisoners accused of plotting a coup, including former ministers of justice and finance, arrived in Ethiopia.

(ST)