South Sudan Peace Talks Begin in Ethiopia
Peace talks between warring South Sudan factions began on Sunday in Ethiopia after a brief delay over the negotiation agenda.
Agence France-Presse reports the face-to-face negotiations in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, are aimed at ending three weeks of brutal fighting between army units loyal to President Salva Kiir and a loose coalition of ethnic militias and mutinous army officers led by former vice president Riek Machar. More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting.
The talks began a day after artillery fire rocked the government district of Juba, the South Sudanese capital, stoking fears that the world’s newest country was sliding into all-out civil war. On Sunday, fighting continued in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile. An army spokesman said government forces were making advances toward rebel-held Bentiu and Malakal, the capitals of Unity and Upper Nile states, respectively.
The Ethiopian government is keen to get both sides of the South Sudanese conflict to sit down at the negotiating table.
“South Sudan deserves peace and development, not war,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told reporters at a ceremony to officially open peace talks in Addis Ababa. “You should not allow this senseless war to continue; you need to stop it, and you need to stop it today. And you can.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the two sides to be serious and not use the talks as a stalling tactic.
“Negotiations have to be serious, they cannot be a delay [or 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 in Jerusalem, Israel.
The current fighting began on December 15. The government accuses Machar of attempting to orchestrate a coup. Machar, who denies this, counters that Kiir is carrying out a violent purge of his rivals.
In addition to more than 1,000 South Sudanese killed in the conflict, some 200,000 people have been displaced.