South Sudan’s foreign minister says the stalled peace negotiations between the government in Juba and opponents of the administration are due to the intransigence of representatives of the rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar at the talks in neighboring Ethiopia.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin called on the international community to pressure the rebels to end the fighting, insisting that President Salve Kiir is committed to ending the conflict and restoring peace and stability in the world’s new west nation.
"South Sudan is committed to peace. The leadership, the party and everybody else, we are for peace and we have never left the peace forum,” said Marial. “So the problem is with the rebels and as you can see for the first time the mediators and the international community have now realized those who are violating the cessation of hostilities are the rebels themselves. Our troops still have orders to respect the ceasefire.”
He says the government’s negotiating team remains in Ethiopia waiting on the rebel delegation in order to begin the next round of talks after the negotiations stalled.
“We have never left the peace table,” said Marial. “The talks were stalled and delayed because of the intransigent position of the rebel group. That they didn’t want to attend the peace talks or continue talking on the issues of peace because they didn’t like the stakeholders and former detainees to be a part of the negotiating team although that was their first request of Dr. Riek Machar, [but] now he doesn’t want them anymore.”
The government has accused the rebels of breaching a ceasefire agreement signed between President Kiir and Machar after the rebels attacked Ayod town on Tuesday.
A delegation of the rebels failed to meet Ugandan officials as part of the peace negotiations after both groups attributed the failure to miscommunication. The rebels have insisted Uganda withdraw troops from South Sudan as their main demand to ending the conflict at the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia mediated by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Marial says it is unlikely that Uganda would pull its troops out. He says the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) is there to combat violence carried out by armed groups that cross borders to terrorize citizens in countries including, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan and Uganda.
“The rebels desire to visit and talk to Uganda is really not to talk about the issue of Ugandan forces in South Sudan, because this is a sovereignty issue that connects the two countries,” said Marial. “The Uganda forces are there because there are other important issues that they are taking care of. The issue for example of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is causing havoc in our region including South Sudan, DRC, and Uganda.”
The rebels have accused Uganda of taking sides in South Sudan’s conflict by supporting the government in Juba.
But Marial says the presence of the UPDF forces in South Sudan forms part of bilateral relations between Juba and the administration in Kampala.
“The issue why they are going to Uganda maybe is to get more advice, how they should listen to the voice of peace and I think that is the most important thing,” said Marial.