Khartoum — After two and a half months of armed conflict in South Sudan, the gap is still wide between government forces led by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar.
GAP OF DIFFERENCES REMAINS
The negotiations between the two sides are still going on in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa under the patronage of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a regional organization formed by east African countries. No agreement has been reached, as both parties are adherent to their demands while the clashes continue on the ground.
The rebels' last demand was forming a transitional government, in which current President Kiir must have no role. But Juba has rejected that demand.
"There is no way Salva Kiir steps down, save that he fails to win the coming presidential elections," said Ateny Wek Ateny, spokesperson of South Sudan's presidential Office.
But Ateny also said that the "Juba government welcomes participation of the rebels in the coming elections, slated for next years."
The spokesman expressed pessimism over the future of the Addis Ababa negotiations, saying "there are barriers that may not lead to a positive outcome, including the rebels' crippling demands."
In the meantime, a ceasefire agreement signed by the two parties in Addis Ababa late last January, seems unable to rein the violence which is spreading in the south, namely Upper Nile and Unity, the biggest oil-producing states in South Sudan.
Reports show that differences renewed between the two South Sudanese rivals.
The rebels protested against a decision by African mediators to include Nasir, a rebels' stronghold in Upper Nile State, among the ceasefire monitoring and verification areas.
Local media reported that Taban Deng Gai, head of the rebels' negotiating team, said the IGAD should not have included Nasir as one of the areas to be monitored, while excluding other areas held by pro-government forces.
HUMANITARIAN, ECONOMIC CRISES
Valerie Amos, under-secretary-general for UN humanitarian affairs, earlier expressed deep concern over the grave humanitarian situation in South Sudan, particularly in Malakal.
Malakal, the capital city of Upper Nile state, constitutes the center of violence that claimed lives of thousands. Both parties are trying to control the strategic city, which pushes its residents to flee to Sudan's White Nile State on border with South Sudan.
Amos said that Malakal "saw shocking violence and human rights abuses last week. More than 100 people were reported killed and injured, some of them attacked in the hospitals and churches, places of sanctuary, where they had sought refuge."
The armed conflict also caused South Sudan's oil production, the backbone of the newly-born state's economy, to slump by nearly 30 percent.
"South Sudan is producing 175,000 barrels (of oil) per day," said Ateny, down from 245,000 barrels a day before the fighting broke out.
Latest reports said that rebels have targeted the oil-producing states of Upper Nile and Unity. They are still in control of Bantio, the capital city of Unity state where 45,000 barrels are produced a day. In Upper Nile state which has a daily yield of 200, 000 barrels, Machar and government forces have been taking control the capital city Malakal in turn.
According to UN reports, the fighting in South Sudan have left thousands of people dead. More than 67,000 Southern Sudanese have been displaced to neighboring countries.