South Sudan‘s armed opposition on Thursday rejected any “imposition” of a peace deal and said more time is needed to secure lasting peace in the country and it would be necessary to address the root causes of a civil war after the first face-to-face meeting between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in almost two years.
An opposition statement called Wednesday night’s meeting “cordial” and said both sides discussed the prospects for peace “in broad terms”. But it warned that the current model for the peace process is “unrealistic” and that “there is no shortcut to peace”.
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“For any meaningful dialogue to take place, it should be within the context of a comprehensive political settlement,” the group said.
“So that the guns can fall silent and a conducive environment for dialogue established,” the group said.
It said the solution to the five-year civil war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and forced more than 3 million people to flee their homes, was to revisit the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The CPA was agreed in 2005 between Sudan and South Sudan that was aimed at ending the civil war in Sudan and paved the way for South Sudan to hold its ultimately successful secession.
The current model, with its various workshops, though they are very informative, is unrealistic, as it is not for lack of technical experts that there is war in the country, nor will the workshops stop the war
Images showed the rivals being coaxed by Abiy into an awkward hug as both parties try to negotiate an end to a five-year civil war.
It was not clear whether Kiir and Machar met privately Thursday.
But opposition spokesman Mabior Garang told the AP that a peace deal at the moment was “not likely” and that it “wouldn’t be a genuine agreement.”
South Sudan’s conflict has continued despite multiple attempts at peace deals.
The East African regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, has led several rounds of failed peace talks.
“Business as usual is over. We will sit and wait as of now,” Ethiopia’s prime minister told the gathering.
Machar fled South Sudan after new fighting erupted in the capital Juba in July 2016, ending a brief attempt at peace in which he returned to his role as Kiir’s deputy.
The rebel leader had been held under house arrest in South Africa since late 2016 after fleeing South Sudan.
Weary South Sudanese civilians watching the latest developments called for Kiir, Machar and their supporters to put the country’s fate first.
“The people of South Sudan want peace now and (they) need the leaders to sacrifice their personal ambitions for its sake,” the editor of a local newspaper, Wol Deng Atak, told the AP.
Both sides have been accused of widespread abuses such as gang rapes against civilians, including along ethnic lines.
A number of South Sudan officials have been accused by human rights groups of profiting from the conflict and blocking the path to peace.
Early this month, the UN Security Council adopted a United States-sponsored resolution that threatens an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against six people, including the country’s defence chief, if fighting doesn’t stop and a political agreement reached.
The civil war has killed tens of thousands of people and created Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, millions of others still in the country are near famine.