South Sudan and rebels to resume talks

Negotiations in Ethiopia to focus on reconciliation but rebel spokesman says government "not serious" about talks.

    South Sudan's government and rebels are preparing to meet again for a new round of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital aimed at ending their nearly two-month-old conflict, negotiators said.

    The two sides agreed to meet again for a second phase of negotiations on Monday on a political agreement designed to address the root causes of the conflict. 

    Peace delegates loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar, a former vice president, signed a ceasefire on January 23 although fighting has continued.

    "The second round of the South Sudan negotiations focusing on political dialogue and national reconciliation will officially be launched on Monday," IGAD, the regional grouping that is helping mediate the talks, said in a statement.

    Seven South Sudanese political figures, who were among 11 arrested in Juba when the fighting broke out in mid-December and who were freed at the end of January, will take part in the talks, IGAD said.

    The remaining four political figures - presented as Machar sympathisers - are still detained in Juba, the capital. The government side wants to try them, along with two other political figures - including Machar himself - who are on the run.

    Major obstacle

    The detainees had been a major obstacle to progress in the first round, and the fate of the four is set to come up again in the latest talks.

    "We are still requesting, or demanding, the release of the remaining detainees," Yohanis Musa Pouk, the rebel spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

    He said the rebels would also request that someone other than Kiir should lead the country until elections are held in 2015.

    "We should have an independent person that can lead the government until we go to elections. President Kiir is not the right person at this time," he said.

    Pouk also said he was not optimistic about the success of the negotiations "because we know that our government is not serious about the talks".

    During the two-week break in discussions IGAD said its mediators briefed the heads of state of member countries and sought their advice.

    The first IGAD monitors, tasked with checking that the ceasefire is indeed implemented, were also deployed. The ceasefire, however, has already been broken several times.

    The conflict has left thousands dead since mid-December and has caused close on 900,000 others to flee their homes.

    SOURCE: AFP


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