On Sunday, despite reports of violence and fighting, direct peace talks have begun between the rebel forces and the government of South Sudan. The peace negotiations are taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Representatives of the former vice president, Riek Machar, and President Salva Kiir met in Ethiopia to discuss efforts to bring about an end to the bloody fighting that began last month in South Sudan. President Kiir fired Riek Machar in July.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry stated to reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday that the two sides should approach the negotiations seriously, and not use them as a delaying tactic or a “gimmick in order to continue the fighting.”
The present fighting in South Sudan began on December 15. Military forces loyal to President Kiir began their efforts to quell an uprising headed by Machar, who led an alliance of army commanders and ethnic military forces.
Macher denies the accusation made by President Kiir that he was attempting to led a coup and overthrow the government, though he does admit to leading forces against the President Kiir. Machar said that his actions were defensive, because President Kiir was trying to purge the government of South Sudan of his rivals.
There have been at least 1,000 casualties reported in the conflict and 200,000 people have become refugees since the start of the fighting December 15.
IGAD is the East African regional bloc serving as the broker for the talks. They would like the government of South Sudan to release 11 political prisoners, many senior government officials numbering among them.
Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda stated that the prisoners could still “have their day in court,” but added that IGAD could be helpful and “expedite the process” by possibly bailing the prisoners out and having them transferred “to IGAD’s custody.”
No to release of the prisoners held by the government of South Sudan
This proposal was rejected by Information Minister Michael Makuei, a spokesperson for the government of South Sudan, who indicated that no prisoners would be released.
Makuei repeated the claim that Machar began the conflict because he was attempting a coup. He argued that Machar’s attempt to conduct a coup and “overthrow a democratically elected government” was a well-known and “established fact.”
Negotiating with the rebels opposed to the present government of South Sudan, according to Makuei, doesn’t mean that “any rebels who have fallen in our hands” won’t “have to answer why he or she decided to take up arms against a democratically elected government.”
Despite the peace talks, fighting raged between the opposing sides in the northern Upper Nile and Unity states of South Sudan, an important oil-producing region of the war-torn country.
Also, according to army spokesperson Philip Aguer, government SPLA military forces were approaching the two state capitals of Malakal and Bentiu, held by the rebels. He added that government forces were in the process of retaking Jonglei’s capital city, Bor.
An intense battle is going on in Bor to retake the city. One army general has been a casualty of the battle, and burnt-out tanks have been reported along the road leading to Bor.
Civilians forced to flee by the ongoing warfare have overwhelmed UN peacekeeping bases. The turmoil in South Sudan has been brought about by ethnic violence between Machar’s Nuer and President Kiir’s Dinka tribes.
South Sudan is a country still in its infancy. It seceded from Sudan in 2011. Both regional and Western powers are supporting the peace negotiations, in an effort to prevent east Africa from becoming destabilized further. Though both President Kiir’s government faction and that of Machar have gone on record saying that they want peace to return to South Sudan, neither side has mentioned the conditions that would have to be met in order for them to stop the warfare from continuing.
Written by: Douglas Cobb