Heads of state and government from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries plan to meet in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa on Tuesday, according to Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s foreign minister.
IGAD officials say the focus will be on ways of improving peace and security in the six-country East African bloc devoted to boosting political and economic cooperation. Participants will also strive to come up with solutions for resolving the conflict in South Sudan as well as security threats posed by the Somali-based Islamist insurgent group, al-Shabab.
Benjamin said South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former vice president and rebel leader Riek Macher will meet on Tuesday, as part of IGAD-mediated peace talks.
Their meeting comes a month after both Kiir and Macher signed a deal in Ethiopia to recommit to a cessation of hostilities agreement as negotiations continue between the two sides.
“This was a requirement by the IGAD mediators that the president will be able to meet the rebel leader to see how far they have honored the cessation of hostilities,” Benjamin said. “This is the fulfillment of the commitment of President Salva Kiir Mayardit to see that the peace process moves ahead.”
Both the government and the rebels have recently traded accusations of undermining the cessation of hostilities agreement. But, Benjamin says the rebels are to blame for attacking government positions.
“Unfortunately, the rebels’ side had actually violated the cessation of hostilities and they have been attacking left and right all the positions of the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army], especially in Unity State,” said Benjamin.
The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes.
Benjamin says the administration in Juba is committed to the peace talks, but called on regional leaders to pressure the rebels to become more serious about the negotiations.
Officials of South Sudan’s government recently expressed displeasure with neighboring Kenya and Sudan over their relationship with the rebels. Kenya was criticized for according preferential treatment to Macher. Sudan was accused of undermining the Juba government’s legitimacy when it allowed a rebel delegation to hold a news conference in Khartoum over the weekend.
Benjamin rejected media reports of the criticism as mere media speculation. He says the government has confidence in Nairobi’s efforts to help resolve the conflict and says bilateral relations between South Sudan and Sudan are being continuously strengthened.
“South Sudan has the confidence of the ability of President Uhuru [Kenyatta] and his government to continue doing the best they can in order to bring peace to the republic of South Sudan,” said Benjamin. “For Sudan, our relations have been improving every day there is no question about that. Our message is that… a democratically-elected government cannot be equated with a rebel movement that is our concern.”
The violence in South Sudan erupted after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup. Machar denied the accusation, but subsequently formed a rebel group to fight the administration in Juba.