Face-to-face talks between South Sudanese rebels and government negotiators have been delayed until Sunday, when the two sides will attempt to thrash out a ceasefire agreement to end weeks of deadly fighting in the country.
At a ceremonial opening to the talks at a luxury hotel in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Saturday, the leaders of the rival delegations hugged, but the faltering start to the negotiations has dampened hopes for a swift end to the violence.
The run-up has been overshadowed by continued clashes between President Salva Kiir’s SPLA government forces and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar centred around the strategically located town of Bor.
The delayed talks will focus on when and how to roll out the ceasefire that both sides have agreed to in principle, though neither has indicated a start date.
The head of the rebel delegation in Addis Ababa, Taban Deng Gai, repeated Machar’s call for the release of several senior politicians allied to Machar and for the state of emergency imposed by Kiir in two states of South Sudan to be lifted.
“We ask for ... the release of political detainees and ... free movement and political space for them to join us here,” Gai said at the opening ceremony.
Dina Mufti, spokesman for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, said that the direct talks would begin at 12pm GMT on Sunday.
Western and regional powers, many of which supported the negotiations that led to South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011, are pressing for a peace deal, fearing the new fighting could slide into civil war and destabilise east Africa.
Clashes in the country have already claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, driven 200,000 from their homes and rattled oil markets.
South Sudan remains one of the continent’s least developed countries despite all its crude reserves, estimated by BP to be sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest.
The fighting first erupted on Dec. 15 in Juba before rapidly spreading along ethnic faultlines across the country, which is about the size of France.
Kiir is from the country’s Dinka group while Machar is a Nuer. The two tribal groups have fought each other in the past for domination, influence and resources.
Kiir has accused his long-term political rival Machar, whom he dismissed in July, of attempting to stage a coup and arrested 11 senior political figures he said were involved in the alleged plot.
Machar denied the accusation but has acknowledged leading soldiers battling the government. He has accused Kiir of purging political opponents within the ruling SPLM party ahead of elections next year.
In a sign of deteriorating security, the United States on Friday ordered more of its embassy staff out of South Sudan and advised all other US citizens to leave.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-04