South Sudan's warring parties on Saturday met in Addis Ababa for the first time since fighting erupted three weeks ago and formally opened talks to strike a ceasefire deal. "South Sudan deserves peace and development, not war," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said at an opening ceremony attended by the government and rebel negotiating teams.
"You should not allow this senseless war to continue, you need to stop it, and you need to stop it today - and you can." Negotiation teams have spent three days in Addis Ababa, but met directly for the first time as full teams on Saturday.
Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said full formal face-to-face talks would begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday. "The people of South Sudan have suffered in the fight for independence, and they will not suffer again in our hands," said Nhial Deng Nhial, head of the government negotiation team.
"We shall leave no stone unturned in the search for a peaceful resolution." Rebel delegation chief Taban Deng, a former governor of the key oil-state Unity, said they were committed to the talks mediated by the regional East African IGAD bloc of nations.
"We will be continuing move to the next level of engagement, in which we shall discuss the issue of ceasefire as well as political issues," Deng said.
But he also demanded the release of several top political leaders from the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), accused of involvement in the violence, that began in an alleged coup on December 15.
"A leadership crisis in the SPLM, the absence of democracy in the SPLM and a lack of dialogue within the SPLM has led to the current problems we are facing today," Deng said.
"We are asking for the release of the detainees. They are detained not for any crime they have committed, but for voicing their opinions in the SPLM."
IGAD, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, whose members include the talks host Ethiopia as well as Kenya and Uganda played key roles in pushing forward the 2005 deal that ended Sudan's two-decade-long civil war.
"If you put your people and country above any personal ambitions, surely you can stop the war," Tedros added.
"The only thing you need is the will and commitment to stop it. You're the owners, you know the root causes of the problem, you know the solution."
Seyoum Mesfin, former Ethiopian foreign minister and the special envoy for IGAD, said that "both the government and opposition of South Sudan have committed to resolve their political differences through political dialogue."
Source: Khaleej Times