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Little progress in South Sudan peace talks: Government

AFP , Thursday 13 Aug 2015
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (Photo: Reuters)
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South Sudan's rival forces have made little if any progress at talks on ending the country's civil war, the government has warned, despite intense international pressure for a deal ahead of an August 17 deadline.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in almost 20 months of war, which has been marked by widespread atrocities on both sides.

Mediators say President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar are now due to meet in Ethiopia in a bid to stave of sanction threats before the deadline expires on Monday, although delegates appeared gloomy for a deal.

"There are some outstanding areas where, if we don't agree, we don't need to deceive ourselves and talk of peace," Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters late Wednesday, after a week of talks in Addis Ababa.

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

The war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. Recent attacks have included castration, rape and tying children together before slitting their throats.

Key issues of disagreement include a power-sharing proposal between the government and rebels, part of a peace plan put forward by the regional eight-nation bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the United Nations, African Union, China and the "troika" of Britain, Norway and the United States.

On Tuesday, top rebel generals said they had split from Machar, and while the government said they had not received any official confirmation, Makuei warned it could complicate peace efforts.

"If what they have declared is true, and they have taken over the leadership of their movement, then definitely we will have to negotiate with whoever is in power," said Makuei, who is leading the government delegation at the talks.

Mediators, backed by US President Barack Obama during his visit to Ethiopia last month, have given Kiir and Machar until Monday to halt the civil war.

Diplomats say the rivals are under intense pressure to sign a deal, since failure to do so could lead to a range of punitive measures, including an arms embargo and targeted sanctions.

But they remain far apart on power sharing and security, including the proposed demilitarisation of the capital Juba, Makuei said.

"We have disagreed on the structure of the government, we have disagreed on powers and competencies of the president and vice president," Makuei said.

"We have also disagreed on the power sharing, in terms of percentages, whether at the national level or state level, and we have disagreed on security issues."

Those issues would now be put before Kiir and Machar, who are expected to meet soon in Addis Ababa, he said, without giving a date for the meeting.

"Mediators are to make the necessary preparations for the principals to come and meet, and probably discuss and agree on these outstanding issues," he said.

During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopia hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.

At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.

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