Juba — South Sudan government on Monday rejected any proposal to form an interim government without either President Salva Kiir or its former vice-president Riek Machar who now leads a rebellion in the country.
Forces loyal to both leaders are accused of committing crimes against civilians in the two-months of violence that began in the capital Juba on December 15. Several Nuer civilians were allegedly targeted by members of the security services during the violence.
When large parts of the military mutinied in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, forces allied to Machar targetted civilians from the Dinka ethnicity. An estimated 10,000 people have died and over 700,000 people have been internally displaced with almost 150,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries.
The government delegation to the second round of talks in Addis Ababa, which were officially opened by the Ethiopian prime minister on 11 February, have not responded to the proposed agenda put forward by the East African mediating team.
The contents of the proposed agenda remains unclear as the two sides have not shared it with the media, although sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations claimed the mediators are prioritising the interests of the people of South Sudan and not the rival warring factions.
"I have not seen the proposal but I am told the mediators have presented a proposal similar to the proposal used in Central Africa conflict. It proposes the formation of the interim government which does not include President Salva Kiir and the former vice president, Riek Machar", a senior government official close to president Kiir told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
"This proposal is argued to be based on the expressed views of the majority of the people of South Sudan who have shared with mediators in various forums and engagements, either as groups or individuals that the only way to bring the country back is to form an interim government without participation of the two principals", added the official.
Any such proposal that involved President Kiir stepping down would not be accepted by the leadership of South Sudan's ruling party - the SPLM - or the people of the world's youngest nation, according to the source.
President Kiir was elected in 2010, with Machar as his deputy and running mate achieving over 93% of the vote, but the relationship between the two has deteriorated since South Sudan became independent in 2011 as part of a peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
In July last year, shortly after Machar made public his intention to challenge Kiir for the chairmanship of the SPLM, he was sacked. Kiir also sacked his whole cabinet and although some were reappointed, those who were not given new posts went on to form a group of senior SPLM figures highly critical of the president.
In early December, the group held a press conference in Juba describing Kiir as "increasingly dictatorial" and calling for reform of the ruling SPLM. When fighting broke out in Juba mid-December most of this group was arrested and accused - along with Machar - of an allegedly conspiring to oust Kiir in a coup.
All the accused deny the charges, but Machar has since assume leadership of segments of the army who have defected and armed civilians angered at the targeting of Nuer in the capital during the first days of the conflict.
Machar was welcomed back into the SPLM fold in 2003 following a split that began in 1991, the memories of which have been rekindled by the current conflict. Some analysts believe that a reconciliation is much less likely this time and that many in rebel-group-turned-ruling party will not countenance Machar becoming president.
The mediator's proposal for Kirr and Machar to step aside appears to be an attempt satisfy both those who do not want Machar's armed rebellion to be rewarded by a return to a senior government position and those who feel that Kiir's overall leadership and his response to crisis mean that he should step down.
However, the government source said that the proposal "will not work" and "will not be accepted because even if the government accepts it, the people of South Sudan would not accept it because they elected President Salva Kiir in 2010."
If the people of South Sudan want a change of president "they will demonstrate that at the end of his term", which ends in 2015.
Attempts by Machar and others to contest for the chairmanship of the SPLM - with which the winner would become the overwhelming favourite - was one of the main causes of the tension that preceded the split in army triggering the current crisis.
Gordon Buay, the spokesperson of the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) - a former rebel group now allied to the government - said on Sunday that President Kiir would not step before completing his term.
"Let me advise everyone that Salva Kiir was elected in 2010. He can only be removed via the same democratic process. He will not step down because Riek Machar attempted a coup. That will not happen", Buay said.
South Sudan's foreign affairs ministers, Barnaba Marial Benjamin also rejected the idea that President Kiir should step down on the same ground that he was elected.
"Why would he step down when you know that he was elected by the people of South Sudan with 93% votes? There is no reason to qualify such suggestions. If there are people who want to contest the same position they can do that in the 2015. They will not be denied their right because we are a democratic country", Marial told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
Many analysts have expressed fears that Machar's presidential ambitions and the desire by president Kiir to remain in power beyond 2015 is becoming a stumbling block for success in the peace talks.
Anthony Sebit, a Juba based local political analyst expressed doubts about the possibility of the two sides agreeing on a deal that would not secure participation of the leaders of the two rival groups.
"You have Riek Machar with long ambition and goal to become a President of South Sudan and of course we are not seeing any sign indicating that President Kiir would leave power," Sebit told Sudan Tribune from Nairobi, Kenya.
"Even though he is not interested and may want to retire from politics now, the people around him will not accept that and they may want to use the system so that he could remain in power so that they could continue to enjoy the privileges", Sebit added.
According to the analyst, these are very difficult ambitions to be reconciled without the intervention of the people of South Sudan with help from their friends in the region and the international community.
"President Kiir has widely been criticized for showing lack of strong leadership, specifically on corruption, human rights, good governance and recently for dictatorial tendencies given the way he has been running the country through presidential orders," he stressed.
"Little is discussed and handled by relevant institutions, including the appointment of senior civil servants as well as the approvals of appointments in junior ministers in the states," the political analyst added.
Some independent observers have observed that Machar would not be the right successor to President Kiir should the international community to persuade the latter to step aside, citing what occurred in neigbouring Central African Republic (CAR).
"People are looking for change but there are people do not see Riek Machar as the right replacement at the moment. The feeling with different people now is that even [if] president Salva Kiir accept to step down, Riek Machar does not appear to be the right person. His involvement in the present rebellion reminds most about his past. Indeed there are people who now appear reserved to talk about his participation in power sharing, considering the behaviours of his followers in this crisis", Abraham Dut, a native of Bailiet County, Upper Nile State said in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday.
Dut said most places in his county were reduced to ashes by armed elements allegedly allied to Machar on the ground that they did not want to participate in the revolt.
"What happen in Bailiet is something that nobody had expected considering we are from the same state and the same region. Our people became the victim of political differences they do not have any idea. They also came to know when they anger was transferred to them through attacks, targeted killings and the burning of their settlements", Dut explained.
But Yien Mathew, previously a spokesperson for governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) said an interim government without President Kiir would bring peace.
"There will be an interim government which will change everything befalling in our country to reconcile communities, rebuild trust, protect civilians, provide badly needed services to our people, and above all, restore national sovereignty," said Yien.
It is time South Sudanese come out and say loud and clear that enough is enough" to the Presidency of Salva Kiir as the only means to give peace a chance," he added.