Fighting rages in South Sudan as talks stall

2014-01-05 14:00

Thousands are displaced as peace process backfires in north African state.

Any hopes of a swift ceasefire to end raging battles and the threat of all-out civil war in South Sudan have been dashed after peace talks in Ethiopia between the government and rebels were delayed yesterday.

Teams from both sides – President Salva Kiir Mayardit and sacked deputy Riek Machar – began arriving in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday and held initial discussions.

But formal face-to-face talks have stalled.

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei, part of the delegation to the talks, as well as rebel team spokesperson Yohanis Musa Pouk, said on Saturday that the two sides would not meet until an agenda had been drafted by negotiators and agreed upon by both sides.

But Makuei confirmed that the leaders of the two delegations met briefly late on Friday.

“They met,” said Makuei, adding that teams were now “waiting to hear the way forward” from the negotiators, who are from the regional east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development bloc of nations.

“The heads of the two delegations need to agree on an agenda?...?maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow,” said Pouk.

Thousands of people are feared to have been killed in the fighting since it erupted on December 15, pitting army units loyal to Mayardit against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by his rival and former deputy, Machar.

On Friday, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom was optimistic that direct talks would take place yesterday.

But yesterday, Addis Ababa’s foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti said the two sides would “have to continue the proxy talks”, meeting separately with negotiators.

“An agenda has to be formulated, and then after this they’ll proceed with face-to-face talks,” Mufti said.

He added that there was no timeline set for direct talks, only that they would happen “as soon as possible”.

Meanwhile, there are reports that fighting has continued to intensify on the ground in South Sudan as government forces moved on the rebel-held town of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.

“We have enough forces who will defeat the rebels within 24 hours,” army spokesperson Philip Aguer told Al Jazeera, “amid reports of heavy battles involving tanks and artillery, which has already exchanged hands three times since fighting began in mid-December”.

Machar told the British Telegraph that his forces would hold off from attacking Juba in the hope of achieving a “negotiated settlement”.

But a state of emergency has been declared in Unity and Jonglei, whose capitals are under rebel control.

Mayardit has insisted that the fighting was sparked by a coup attempt on December 15, which was mounted by soldiers loyal to Machar.

Meanwhile, the BBC has reported that “at least 1?000 people have been killed since December 15” and that more than 180?000 people have been displaced, many of whom are living without proper shelter, water or sanitation.

The BBC’s Alastair Leithead, in the South Sudan capital, Juba, said “both sides think they have the upper hand and, with their positions so far apart, something dramatic must change for a speedy agreement to come out of the talks in Addis Ababa”.

He said the rebels have a lengthy list of matters for discussion if there is to be a ceasefire – and that “the truce is at the bottom of the list”.

He went on to say that there are trained and armed units fighting in Bor “and both sides may be trying to put themselves in the strongest military position possible as the talks in Ethiopia take place”.

After decades of conflict, South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan in 2011 following a 2005 peace deal.

Ethnic loyalties are an integral part of the conflict – Mayardit is from the Dinka community while Machar is a Nuer. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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