Juba — The latest round of peace talks for South Sudan stumbled into a third day Wednesday, with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) scolding the opposition for boycotting the talks after changing its position on who should take part in them.
In a statement released late Tuesday, the IGAD special envoys for South Sudan said the opposition side failed to attend the second day of talks, even though they had "repeatedly assured the mediation of their commitment to the inclusive, multi-stakeholder roundtable peace process and the modalities for comprehensive talks."
IGAD called on the opposition to "honor its commitment to resolve the crisis" and said it expects its negotiators "to immediately return to and fully participate in the multi-stakeholder negotiations."
The fifth round of talks to end nearly eight months of conflict in South Sudan got under way on Monday after a break of more than a month.
IGAD adjourned the previous round after the opposition failed to show up on the opening day. That time, the opposition said their demands that stakeholder groups that have fled the country or are based outside Juba be allowed to take part in the talks, had fallen on deaf ears.
This time, the opposition said it was boycotting the talks because they wanted them to be between only the two main parties to the conflict.
Opposition 'not against inclusivity'
Opposition spokesman Mabior Garang said his side is "not against inclusivity" but first wants to have "direct negotiations with the government to see how we can stop this war so that we can have a more conducive environment in which what the stakeholders want to be done, can be done."
"We are still at the stage of stopping the war," not trying to hammer out what a transitional government for South Sudan would look like, he said.
Mr. Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed to set up a transitional government within 60 days when they met in Addis Ababa in June. The deadline for setting up the transitional government falls this week.
Mabior said some of the parties to the talks were more focussed on setting up a transitional government by the deadline than on restoring peace in South Sudan.
Opposition creating confusion
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the opposition has created confusion by backtracking on its commitment to take part in multi-party talks.
"It was their position that has led the mediators into pressuring the government to accept that all other stakeholders had to be included in the talks. They are now coming back to our position," he said, noting that when the talks began in January, the government wanted them to be bilateral -- between itself and the opposition.
Ateny said the government changed its tune when it was accused of obstructing the peace process.
"We were seen as not being flexible and not serious about bringing peace to South Sudan. The rebels were telling the whole world that the government was not serious. Now the world is seeing them, they are the ones who are not serious," Ateny said.
Mabior said the opposition is "still fully committed to the peace process."
"There is no other way that we envision being victorious in this war except through a peace process," he said.
Ateny said Mr. Kiir has instructed the government team in Addis Ababa not to return to Juba without a peace deal.