South Sudanese peace talks hit by delay

Over 1,000 people killed since violence began last month

US citizens board a Marine Corps plane during a partial evacuation of the US embassy in Juba, South Sudan. Photograph: Staff Sgt Robert L Fisher III/ US Marines via The New York Times

US citizens board a Marine Corps plane during a partial evacuation of the US embassy in Juba, South Sudan. Photograph: Staff Sgt Robert L Fisher III/ US Marines via The New York Times

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 12:34

An African official who is working to organise peace talks between warring parties in South Sudan said that direct talks between the sides have been delayed. Mahboub Maalim, the executive secretary of an East African bloc of states known as IGAD, said the talks have been delayed in part because no agenda has yet been set.

Officials had hoped direct peace talks would begin today after preliminary talks were held.

Violence has spiralled across South Sudan since December 15th. President Salva Kiir accuses the former vice president, Riek Machar, of an attempted coup. Mr Machar denies the accusation but forces loyal to him now control two state capitals, including the town of Bor, about 110km north of the country capital, Juba.

The talks in South Sudan’s neighbour Ethiopia made a slow start yesterday after days of delay, with both sides meeting mediators from the regional IGAD grouping but not each other.

But further clashes between Mr Kiir’s SPLA government forces and rebels loyal to Mr Machar yesterday suggested the ceasefire demanded by bordering nations was still a long way off.

“We’ve successfully finished the proxy talks,” Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom said last night. “We will proceed to holding face-to-face discussions tomorrow.”

South Sudan’s neighbours fear the fighting, which rapidly spread from the capital last month along ethnic faultlines, could destabilise East Africa and international pressure is mounting for a deal.

More than a thousand people have been killed and 200,000 driven from their homes in three weeks of fighting that has also rattled oil markets.

South Sudan remains one of the continent’s least developed countries for all its crude reserves, estimated by BP to be sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest.

In a sign of deteriorating security, the United States yesterday ordered more its staff out of South Sudan, which only won its independence from Sudan two years ago in a peace deal that ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars.

Washington also ordered all US citizens to leave. More than 440 US officials and private citizens have now left on charter flights and military aircraft, the State Department said.

Mr Kiir has accused his long-term political rival Mr Machar, whom he sacked in July, of starting the fighting in a bid to seize power. Mr Kiir is from the country’s Dinka group while Mr Machar is a Nuer.

Mr Machar denies the claim but he has acknowledged leading soldiers battling the government. He says the president has been purging political opponents within the ruling SPLM party ahead of elections next year.

The negotiations in Ethiopia are meant to focus on when a ceasefire should begin and how it should be monitored. Both the SPLA and rebels have said they intend to put down their weapons.

Reuters