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South Sudan Hopeful of Improved Peace Talks With Rebels

Negotiators at South Sudan peace talks in Addis Ababa review a draft cessation of hostilities agreement on Jan. 13, 2014.

Negotiators at South Sudan peace talks in Addis Ababa review a draft cessation of hostilities agreement on Jan. 13, 2014.

South Sudan’s government expects a “significant improvement” in peace negotiations with the rebels, following the release of political detainees accused of plotting to overthrow President Salva Kiir’s government, according to presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny.

The next round of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sponsored peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia are planned to begin Monday in the capital, Addis Ababa. The released detainees include Pagan Amum, former Secretary General of the governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), Majak D'Agot, Oyai Deng Ajak and Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth.

The release of the detainees has been one of the major demands by representatives of the rebels allied to former vice president Riek Machar at the peace negotiations.

“A significant result is to be expected in the resumption of the peace talks on Monday simply because before the former suspects of the coup attempt were released, are not going to be one of the pre-conditions the rebels would want to put forward before the negotiations,” said Ateny. “I believe there would be a change in the manner in which the rebels would want to negotiate peace with [the] government.”

Ateny says the government would not oppose the alleged coup plotters from being involved in the peace negotiations to help resolve the conflict.

“The president is on record to have said that they are actually free to join any of the either side, either to cast their lot with the rebels or to come to the government side,” said Ateny. “The government is of the opinion of [not] allowing a third party to be part of the peace negotiations, simply because, we wanted the peace negotiations to be confined to the two warring parties so that they can stop the bleeding.”

Friends of the released detainees have expressed concern the government has prevented the four from leaving the country.

But Ateny says supporters of the administration were unhappy about the release of the political detainees, since, they wanted to be punished for the conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes. He said President Kiir had to calm them down with the explanation that the release is a goodwill initiative aimed at helping to resolve the conflict.

Ateny also denied media reports the administration has confiscated their documents, thus preventing them from traveling to neighboring Ethiopia to be part of the peace negotiations.

“The president has urged them to be inside the country simply because, our political problem can be solved within South Sudan,” said Ateny. “So that they could build the trust with the public because the public [was] outraged by their release. So they have to be here in South Sudan at least for some time ... before they are allowed to travel.”

Ateny says the administration is hopeful the release of the political detainees will serve as a goodwill boost measure to help find a solution to the country’s crisis.