5 January 2014

South Sudan: Direct Peace Talks Between South Sudan Rival Groups to Begin

Negotiators from the South Sudanese government and from the opposition rebel group are set to begin direct peace talks. Failure to agree on an agenda had stalled talks for roughly three days as fighting raged on.

After several false starts, delegations representing the two sides in South Sudan's armed conflict said late Saturday they would meet face-to-face for the first time to begin formal talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire agreement. Negotiations are to commence at 1200 UTC on Sunday in Addis Ababa, the capital city of neighboring Ethiopia.

"The Republic of South Sudan is ready to discuss ways and means that will bring a speedy end to the armed conflict in the country," the head of the South Sudanese government's negotiation team, Nhial Deng Nhial said.

"The people of South Sudan have suffered in the fight for independence, and they will not suffer again in our hands," Nhial added.

"We shall leave no stone unturned in the search for a peaceful resolution," he said.

The opposition was demanding the release of several political prisoners and that the government lift the national state of emergency, according to the delegation's leader, Taban Deng Gai.

Delegations representing South Sudan's government under President Salva Kiir and opposition leader, ousted Vice President Riek Machar, have been at a luxury hotel in Addis Ababa since Friday. However, disagreement over the agenda for ceasefire talks had stalled negotiations from the beginning. Members of the regional East African eight-nation bloc known as IGAD - Intergovernmental Authority on Development - have been acting as mediators.

Fighting in Juba and Bor

There were unconfirmed reports of increased fighting in the capital city, Juba, on Saturday. Rebels were advancing on the city, according to the news agency DPA. AFP news agency also reported artillery fire on Juba's government district.

Meanwhile, clashes continued on the outskirts of Jonglei state's chief city, Bor. The military was reportedly poised to stage a counter-offensive against the rebel-held city.

The military under South Sudan President Salva Kiir's government has been fighting rebel forces supporting ousted Vice President Riek Machar since mid-December, following an alleged coup attempt by Machar. The former vice president has denied the allegations.

The conflict has been marked by a surge of ethnic violence between members of Kiir's Dunka tribe and Machar's Nuer community.

Over 1,000 people have been killed in the violence since December and roughly 200,000 driven from their homes.

kms/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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