By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 21, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Peace negotiations aimed at ending the more than one-year-old conflict in South Sudan have been adjourned after making little progress on several key issues of contention.
Peace talks, which are being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have been beset by repeated delays amid ongoing disagreements between the rival parties and so far failed to yield a lasting political settlement to the crisis.
- Face-to-face talks between the South Sudanese government and rebels get underway in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday 13 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Carl De Souza)
However, at a news conference on Sunday, IGAD chief negotiator Seyoum Mesfin said the adjournment was due to the approaching Christmas and New Year holiday season and not because mediators were satisfied with the progress made by the warring parties.
Mesfin said the mediation team had also decided to adjourn the talks in order to strategise on a new plan to move forward.
“We have informed the leadership committee that this adjournment would probably be more vital for the mediation than the negotiating parties,” he said.
During the recess mediators will hold a summit involving IGAD leaders and partners who have committed to providing support for efforts to end the conflict in South Sudan.
The IGAD summit is expected to discuss a new direction for negotiations that will strengthen the peace process moving forward.
The latest round of peace talks between the South Sudanese government and the country’s rebel faction rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar opened on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The focus had been on advancing and implementing prior agreements between the two factions.
The two conflicting parties also held three committee meetings to discuss issues around leadership, security and resource sharing, as well as economic development, management of public finance and budgeting.
However, Mesfin said the sessions had made little headway.
“They have been trying their level best to move forward, but they could have done better,” he said.
“We are not satisfied, as they are not too,” he added.
The latest adjournment comes as the parties agreed to create 27 ministries with deputies. They also agreed to apportion 10% in a power-sharing arrangement with former detainees and other political parties in the country.
The parties also agreed to adopt a federal system of governance in the country by devolving more powers to state governments.
Economic reforms, including the need to develop renewable resources by investing petrodollars in the agricultural sector, were among the other items agreed.
However, little progress has been made on the most contentious issues, including governance, leadership structure, security arrangements and economic reforms, among others.
The parties have so far been unable to agree on power-sharing arrangements between the president and the prime minister. The opposition group, which is typically the initiator of reform documents at the talks, wanted a leadership structure with an executive prime minister and an almost non-executive president, a move opposed by the government.
On economic sector reform, the parties could not agree on wealth-sharing arrangements, while the government remains vigorously opposed to the opposition’s demand that it disclose national debt levels.
“The rebels are asking for disclosure of the national debts, but our delegation say it is not part of the talks. They are also asking [for] reparations and compensations package for properties and lives lost during this conflict,” a government official at the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity told Sudan Tribune.
The rebel faction argues that full disclosure is necessary to devise strategies aimed at tackling debt levels.
“Of course it is important that the government should disclose the national debts. As would-be partners in a transitional government of national unity, it is important that we know how much the government has borrowed,” Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, told Sudan Tribune when contacted on Sunday.
“We want to know how much is the national debts and from where so that both parties as partners can agree on how to tackle them,” he said.
Dak said there is no viable reason for the government to refuse to disclose national debt unless it is hiding something “fishy”.
Rebels have accused the government of putting the future generation in danger by borrowing billions of dollars to finance the war, saying large amounts of money have ended up in the “pockets” of senior government officials at the expense of the welfare of South Sudanese people.
Meanwhile, the government has rejected a proposal for two separate armies during an interim period as put forward by the rebel group.
It had argued for arrangements for a permanent ceasefire to be restricted to the Greater Upper Nile region, while the opposition group had called for it to be extended across the entire country.
Mesfin said there are concerning reports that the two warring factions were preparing to take further military action on ground despite declaring the war over last month.
“This is happening after the two principals (Kiir and Machar) declaring to [an] IGAD summit last month on 7 November that they have covered enough agreement that would end the war and [that the] remaining outstanding issues were not enough cause to continue war,” he said.
Mesfin expressed dismay at the continued violations of a cessation of hostilities agreement signed by both parties in January and recommitted to in May.
He stressed that the Christmas and New Year season was a time to set aside political differences and to engage in peaceful and meaningful discussion to resolve the crisis.
“This is [the] Christmas season and we urge the warring parties to end the war as per their own commitment and pledge,” he said.
“War is not a gift that people of South Sudan expect from their leaders during this season; Loss of life and grief is not what they expect during this joy and family season,” he added.
APPEAL FOR PEACE
Mesfin also urged both sides to demonstrate a renewed commitment to resolving the crisis through peaceful dialogue, understanding and compromise.
Mediators have also appealed to the rival factions to refrain from launching further military action, warning that necessary measures would be imposed otherwise.
“The world must hold them with their own words that they must excuse the people of South Sudan and we hope they will realise that and this is the most opportune season to honour that agreement and commitment,” Mesfin said.
IGAD will announce a new timetable for the resumption of talks following the IGAD summit.
South Sudan has been embroiled in a violent armed struggle since mid-December last year following a political dispute in the country’s ruling party (SPLM).
The fighting has splintered the country along tribal lines and led to massive displacement and loss of life.
Tens of thousands of people are sheltering inside various UN compounds, while many more have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries.
The true death toll remains unknown.