South Sudan rivals meet for peace talks in Ethiopia

by Zelalem

Addis Ababa (AFP) – South Sudan’s president and rebel leader met Thursday for the latest round of peace talks mediated by East African leaders aimed at ending their 13-month-old civil war.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, whose rival armies continue to clash met face-to-face, met alongside presidents from the East African regional IGAD bloc in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Kiir “is doing his duties trying to restore peace”, his spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told AFP, dismissing reports Kiir was unable to attend talks because he had been sick.

“The meeting… was aimed at narrowing the gap in the negotiations in an attempt to arrive at finding a peaceful solution,” Ateny added.

But full talks with regional leaders, initially expected Friday, were postponed until an African Union summit opening Friday in Addis Ababa ends on Saturday.

Machar, asked by AFP if there had been progress as talks broke on Thursday, replied only: “Not yet.”

South Sudan Foreign Minster Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that peace does not come “in an hour”, and that negotiations would continue.

War in South Sudan is worsening with quot;extremenbsp;hellip;

– Six broken ceasefires –

The rivals last met earlier this month in Tanzania, where they signed a sixth ceasefire deal within a year, and also promised to “make a public apology to the people of South Sudan for what has happened” since war broke in December 2013.

Since then, fighting has continued and diplomats have been growing increasingly impatient with the peace talks held in luxury hotels, with delegates accused of being out of touch with the suffering back home.

The country divided along ethnic lines and set off a cycle of retaliatory battles and massacres across the country that have left tens of thousands dead and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

All previous agreements to end more than a year of violence — marked by massacres, gang rape and child soldier recruitment — collapsed within days if not hours.

Rebel military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said in a statement Thursday that government troops were advancing in eastern Jonglei state.

He also warned that the rebel force would create “the largest mass grave” for any troops who continued attacking.

“Any attempt… at invading our areas will meet strong resistance,” Koang said.

Analysts warned that deals struck on paper have remained far from implementation on battlefields.

“The regional organisations that seek to mediate have been unsuccessful, in part because members have competing interests,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report Thursday.

The IGAD-mediated talks have “narrowly focused on Kiir and Machar… despite the fragmentation and proliferation of armed groups.”

More than two dozen armed forces — including ragtag militia, rebels from neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region, as well as Ugandan troops backing Kiir — are involved in fighting.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been locked in civil war since December 2013 when Kiir accused his sacked deputy Machar of attempting a coup.

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