Kampala — Forces loyal to former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar said Thursday they are prepared to take part in talks to end violence in the world's newest nation and have named delegates to the negotiations, which would be held in the Ethiopian capital.
But James Gatdet Dak, a spokesperson for Machar, insisted that, before the talks go ahead, President Salva Kiir release 11 political leaders who were detained when the violence first erupted -- because the detainees are part of the negotiating team chosen by the former vice president.
Machar "made it clear that he was ready for the talks, but the members of his delegation, most of them are in detention," Gatdet said.
"So President Kiir will release them, then they will be ready to go to Addis for talks," he said.
Kiir has said he is willing to meet with Machar for negotiations to end the violence that has raked South Sudan for 11 days, but only if there are no conditions set for the talks.
Kiir met Thursday in Juba with African officials including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to try to chart a way out of the crisis, which erupted on Dec. 15 in what Kiir said was a failed coup bid orchestrated by Machar.
South Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Arik said the meeting with the African leaders was still under way, and repeated that Kiir is willing to engage with rebels, regional and international actors to try to end the fighting that has displaced tens of thousands and claimed hundreds of lives.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said the leaders have discussed a range of issues, including a cessation of hostilities, the "immediate start of talks" between the two sides, and "the detainees who are suspects of the coup."
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, confirmed after meeting with Kiir in Juba this week that the president has agreed to hold talks with Machar, without conditions, to try to resolve the conflict.
Booth said he also met with the group of 11 political leaders who are being held in Juba, and that they are "secure and well taken care of."
"These individuals communicated to me their desire - and their readiness - to play a constructive role in ending the crisis through peaceful political dialogue and national reconciliation," Booth said.
China has announced it is poised to send a special envoy to South Sudan to help mediate an end to the crisis.