Resumption of South Sudan peace talks in doubt

AP News
Posted: Feb 11, 2014 7:06 AM

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A resumption of peace talks to end South Sudan's violence and political impasse appears to be on hold indefinitely.

South Sudan descended into chaos in mid-December as fighting broke out between troops loyal to the government and rebels who support the former vice president. Thousands were killed in rampages of violence that often took on an ethnic dimension.

A cease-fire was agreed to last month and more advanced talks were scheduled to resume on Monday. That did not happen.

A rebel spokesman said Tuesday that his side won't return to political talks unless high-level political detainees are allowed to attend and unless Ugandan troops stop assisting South Sudan on the battlefield and leave the country. The spokesman, Yohanis Pouk, said seven political detainees now in Kenya and four in South Sudan aren't being allowed to attend the talks in Ethiopia.

Uganda has sent military hardware and troops to fight alongside South Sudanese government troops in at least three states, including two that produce oil.

Ugandan officials insist the deployment was requested by the government of South Sudan President Salva Kiir, whose spokesman told reporters in Uganda last week that the Ugandans would likely withdraw after the country is thought to be stable.

Ugandan troops would withdraw from South Sudan only if that was the wish of the country's government, Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy foreign minister, said Tuesday.

"We have a bilateral agreement with the legitimate government of South Sudan, which invited us to South Sudan under a security pact," he said. "This is an African problem that needs an African solution."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni defended the deployment of troops to South Sudan, saying it was necessary to prevent violence from escalating in the world's newest country. Speaking to lawmakers with the ruling party last week, Museveni said calls for Ugandan troops to withdraw from South Sudan were "distractions."

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 after more than 20 years of war.

Another complicating factor to a resumption of talks was a new demand by the political detainees to enter the peace talks not on the side of the former vice president, Riek Machar, but as a new, third group, said Seyoum Mesfin, the mediator of the talks and an official with a bloc of nations from East Africa known as IGAD.

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"We have met the released detainees in Nairobi. They have told us that they have called the violence to end. They want to enter the talks as a third party to the talks. But we have not that arrangement in place now. But we will look for ways for that, since the participation of a broad range of groups will help the peace process," Seyoum said.

Seyoum also denounced the rebel's demands, saying they don't mesh with the spirit of last month's cease-fire agreement. He said Machar himself has said the detainee issue should not be an impediment to a resumption of talks. Seyoum held out hope the talks would soon resume.


Associated Press reporter Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda contributed to this report.