[QODLink]
Africa

Direct South Sudan peace talks begin

Government and rebels kick off face-to-face negotiations, amid renewed fighting across several parts of the country.

Last updated: 06 Jan 2014 01:24
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Direct peace talks have begun between the South Sudanese government and rebel forces for the first time since a recent escalation in violence, despite reports of renewed fighting across several parts of the country.

The face-to-face negotiations started in Ethiopia on Sunday between representatives of President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, as part of regional and international efforts to end the deadly fighting that broke out in the young country last month.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry urged the two sides not to use the talks as a "gimmick" to buy time.

"Negotiations have to be serious, they cannot be a delay, [a] gimmick in order to continue the fighting and try to find advantage on the ground at the expense of the people of South Sudan," Kerry told reporters while on a visit to Jerusalem on Sunday.

Follow our in-depth coverage of South Sudan

The conflict in South Sudan erupted on December 15, pitting army units loyal to the president against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders headed by Machar.

The government has accused Machar of attempting a coup. Machar has denied the accusation, and in turn accuses the president of conducting a violent purge of his rivals.

At least 1,000 people have been killed, and 200,000 displaced since the fighting began.

Releasing prisoners

On Sunday, Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said IGAD, the East African regional bloc brokering the talks, was trying to convince South Sudan's government to release 11 detainees, many of them former senior government officials.

Reda said it was important "for the government of South Sudan to go the extra mile as a goodwill gesture."

"The prisoners can have their day in court, but IGAD could expedite the process -- one suggestion is bailing out and transferring the detainees to IGAD's custody," he said.

But the spokesman for South Sudan's government delegation, Information Minister Michael Makuei, rejected the proposal, instead blaming Machar of starting the fighting with an attempted coup.

"His attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government is an established fact," Makuei said.

"We are being told to negotiate with the rebels. But any rebels who have fallen in our hands will have to answer why he or she decided to take up arms against a democratically elected government," he added.

Fighting continues

Meanwhile, fighting continued in the oil-producing Unity and Upper Nile states in the north on Sunday.

Army spokesman Philip Aguer said that government forces were advancing on the two state capitals of Bentiu and Malakal, currently in rebel hands, and that troops were preparing to retake Bor, capital of Jonglei.

Fighting also broke out in the capital Juba late on Saturday, with exchanges of gunfire heard coming from a district in the south of the city. Calm returned in the early hours of the morning.

The fighting caused more Juba residents to try to move south to Uganda, adding to the nearly 200,000 people who have already been displaced by three weeks of conflict.

UN peacekeeping bases have also been overwhelmed with civilians seeking shelter, many of them fleeing ethnic violence pitting Kiir's Dinka community against Machar's Nuer tribe.

543

Source:
Agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Indonesia's digerati could be crucial to success in the country's upcoming presidential election.
How Brazil's football legend turned every Corinthians' match into a political meeting for democracy.
As the Pakistani army battles Taliban forces, civilians in North Waziristan face an arduous escape for relative safety.
Nepalese trade in a libido-boosting fungus is booming but experts warn over-exploitation could destroy ecosystem.
Featured
Palestinian families fear Israel's night-time air strikes, as the civilian death toll soars in the Gaza Strip.
China still uses labour camps to silence democracy activists and others it considers malcontents.
Myanmar's Karen veterans of WWII, despite being abandoned by the British, recall their service with fondness.
Sri Lanka refugees stranded on a boat near Australia's shoreline are in legal limbo and fear torture if sent home.
The death of Hamed Shehab on Wednesday in an Israeli air strike has triggered fear and anger among journalists in Gaza.
join our mailing list