Peace Conference Delayed by Adjournment
South Sudan’s government and rebels are taking a more than two-week break from key peace talks amid conflicting reports on progress over the past three weeks, according to Gulf News reports dated March 4.
In a March 2 statement, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) cited “flexibility” by the delegations representing the government of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, an attitude which, the eight country East African bloc said, helped draw up a frame for comprehensive political dialogue.
IGAD has been brokering peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, since January following a month long clash between rival groups. South Sudan has been shaken by violence since mid-December, when President Salva Kiir accused sacked vice-president Riek Machar of standing behind a failed coup attempt against his regime.
The conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, while the UN estimates that some 3.7 million people in South Sudan are now “severely food insecure” and more than 820,000 have been displaced.
IGAD said both sides were halting the peace talks until March 20 in order “to further reflect and consult on guiding documents of the process” according to World Bulletin reports.
A spokesperson for IGAD, Tigist Hailu, said the two sides have yet to even finalize a framework for the talks which are aimed at resolving the underlying causes of South Sudan’s slide into conflict. However another World Bulletin dispatch dated March 2 reported that the rival groups have reached an agreement on the agenda of their peace talks when they reconvene on March 20. Still others say that the talks have stalled over a rebel demand for the release of four political detainees and the withdrawal of Ugandan troops supporting the national SPLA army, as well as disagreement over what exactly should be up for negotiation, according to World Bulletin.
Specifics of an agenda have yet to be announced. The Anadolu Agency, however, reported on March 2 that according to one diplomat, who asked not to be named,”The warring parties have endorsed the agenda items of their political dialogue along with how to conduct themselves through the second-phase talks. What remains is determination of the role of the seven former detainees and the other four still in detention in Juba,” said the diplomat.
Meanwhile, East African states are considering sending troops into South Sudan to help enforce a ceasefire deal between government forces and rebels, IGAD reported, amid persistent accusations by both sides that the other is breaking the truce. IGAD, said in a statement it was discussing a “protection and stabilization force” with the African Union and United Nations.
The statement gave no details on the size or mandate of any force but said it would be part of a mechanism to monitor a cessation of hostilities the warring factions agreed on Jan. 23.
South Sudan’s neighbors are reportedly wary of getting sucked into the violence but are frustrated by the continued fighting, and worry the unrest may escalate into a broader regional conflict. Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have shown a willingness to contribute soldiers to the force, South Sudanese officials in Ethiopia told Reuters. All except Rwanda already provide forces to the 22,000-strong African peacekeeping force in Somalia battling militants.
East African governments and the international community have grown increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations. Rebel and government negotiators have not met face-to-face since signing the ceasefire deal – a truce that failed to stick.
Western diplomats, privately, are skeptical about each side’s commitment to talks. Both may have committed serious abuses that amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said last week.
World Bulletin also reported on March 4 that the South Sudanese government will be appointing new ambassadors to five countries – including the U.S., China and Russia – amid claims that the outgoing envoys failed to sell the government’s side of the story regarding the ongoing conflict with sacked vice president Riek Machar.
“This was expected for quite some time; it’s part of a normal diplomatic reshuffle,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Arik told Anadolu Agency on Monday.
He confirmed that the recalled ambassadors were: Lucia Moga (China), Arop Kuol Deng (Ethiopia), Lumumba Makelele Jok (Belgium), Akech Khoc (the U.S.) and Chol Deng Alaak (Russia).
“The recall of ambassadors from these countries is the normal routine in foreign affairs,” Arik said. “They were recalled before for a briefing, and they have now been called for a general transfer within the ministry,” he added.
The spokesman stressed that new ambassadors would be appointed once the envoys had returned to the country.