Addis Ababa — The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has extended to 28 August the ongoing peace talks between South Sudan's warring parties and postponed the proposed heads of state and government summit scheduled for Sunday.
The decision comes as South Sudan government and the opposition faction of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM-in-Opposition) led by the former vice president Riek Machar failed to meet the 10 August deadline to conclude a peace agreement.
Both sides also traded fresh accusations on violations of a cessation hostilities agreement after fighting broke out Friday in Unity state, forcing aid workers and civilians to seek protection at the United Nations base in the capital, Bentiu.
The acting spokesperson for South Sudan army, Lt. Col. Joseph Marier Samuel confirmed the attack, saying government forces reacted to the rebel attack in self-defense.
"It was [a] coordinated attack, but our forces managed to repulse them with heavy casualties. This is part of a continuous violation of the ceasefire agreement by the rebels," Marier said Friday.
Government sources confirmed the recapture of the strategic capital by the rebels on Friday, but said they pro-government forces were putting further resistance 7kms south of Bentiu town and might retake the town. This is yet to be confirmed.
The IGAD heads of state and government announced this week that they would convene a summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to decide on appropriate measures to take against any party in the conflict that is seen to be perpetuating the war.
Although it remains unclear under which circumstances the summit was postponed, observers blame it on the failure by the two parties to reach an agreement on issues of governance system, permanent security arrangements, new constitution and formation of a transitional government.
On Thursday, the rebel group said they wanted to participate in Sunday's summit, criticising IGAD for previously passing resolutions on South Sudan crisis excluding them in favour of one party
The rebels on Friday said they had no idea on the postponement of the proposed summit.
"Our leadership has not been contacted by IGAD about the summit. Whether it is going to take place as scheduled or it has been postponed, we have no idea," Machar's spokesperson James Gatdet Dak told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Dak also said IGAD extended the peace talks for two weeks because the 10 August dateline was unrealistic.
"You know IGAD previously adjourned the talks in the middle of 60 days ultimatum which they imposed on the two parties within which to reach a peace agreement. A lot of time was wasted when the two parties could not directly hold talks to address the issues. So the dateline became unrealistic," he said.
The rebel leader's spokesperson also doubted whether a peace agreement mediated by IGAD will be struck by 28 August, accusing the government of "violating the cessation of hostilities agreement in total disregard to the peace process."
He however said the opposition group was committed to the peace process and ready to address the root causes of the conflict and reach an agreement as soon as possible.
The nearly eight-month long conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced 1.5 million people internally and to neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia.