Ethiopia: Direct Talks Between South Sudanese Rivlas to Begin Sunday

Addis Ababa / Juba — Ethiopian officials said late on Saturday that face-to-face talks between South Sudan government and rebel representatives will begin on Sunday. Members of the delegation representing the government of South Sudan board a plane at Juba International Airport on January 2, 2014 for Addis Ababa (AFP Photo/Charles Atiki)

However, with government and rebel forces fighting to take control of Bor and Juba, the situations on ground may been that face-to-face talks will be further delayed, an observer told Sudan Tribune.

The two negotiating teams representing president Salva kiir and his former VP Riek Machar who both are staying at Addis Ababa's Sheraton Hotel were originally due to meet face-to-face on Wednesday.

The talks have faced a series of delays as the government has refused to some Machar's preconditions, which include the release to political prisoners and a mechanism to monitor any ceasefire.

The head of the rebel negotiating team, Taban Deng Gai - a former Unity state governor who was sacked by Kiir last year - repeated the rebels preconditions on Saturday.

"We ask for the release of political detainees and free movement and political space for them to join us here" Gai said in Addis Ababa ahead of the direct talks.

So far the government has agreed to release eight of the eleven high profile members of the ruling party who were arrested after fighting broke out within the army on December 15.

Kiir, who has accused Machar and others of attempting to overthrow him, has declared a state of emergency in Jonglei and Unity state where large parts of the army defected following reports that civilians were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity during fighting in Juba.

Former governor Deng and the others who have since rebelled against the government and those who opposed Kiir have denied that there was any attempted coup attempt.

Deng demanded that the state of emergency be lifted in the two states of the country.

The government delegation, however, argued that they went to Addis to discuss ceasefire, not the release of the SPLM rebels in jail in Juba.

Earlier on Saturday, rebel representatives told reporters that direct talks had been delayed until an agenda that would bridge their differences is set out by IGAD mediators and is accepted by both parties.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, is attempting to broker a deal to end weeks of conflict that has killed over 1,000 people and forced tens of thousands to flee their home.

The two sides have so far only held separate talks with IGAD mediators, who are trying to lay the ground for face-to-face talks.

Meanwhile heavy fighting has continued between the army and soldiers who have mutinied. Government claims that the army is advancing to regain control of the capitals of Jonglei and Unity state - Bor and Bentiu respectively - have been strongly denied by the rebels.

Machar has claimed his forces are moving towards the capital Juba, a claim dismissed by the government.

The leader of the South Sudanese delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, told Sudan Tribune that there were "no direct discussions" on Saturday but added that his team had met with mediators.

He did not say whether the mediators have set a time for face-to-face talks to commence.

Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that the two sides have submitted their positions to the mediators.

After studying the positions of both sides, sources say, the chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin - a former Ethiopian foreign minister - decided bring the chief negotiators together to harmonise and streamline the agenda.

After one hour of discussion, Nhial Deng Nhial and Taban Deng Gai decided to narrow the agenda to only cessation of hostilities, which other issues to be addressed after a ceasefire is reached.

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