London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The South Sudan government has said that its regionally mediated negotiations with the opposition movement will resume at the end of July, after nearly a month-long break.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediators, who were on a visit to the capital of South Sudan, Juba, over the past few days, had announced that talks between the two sides would resume on July 30.
Representatives of the two parties will hold discussions on that day to agree on how to include other “stakeholders,” such as political forces, non-governmental organizations, religious clerics and civil society leaderships.
The direct negotiations will start the following day, July 31, Makuei said, adding that his government had asked the IGAD mediators to inform the rebel movement, led by former South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar, that they have two choices—either to accept the participation of the stakeholders who joined the last round of talks, or engage in direct negotiations.
Last month the IGAD-mediated talks were indefinitely suspended when opposition negotiators boycotted the opening session after their request that the talks should involve representatives of people displaced by the conflict and groups that have fled Juba was not met.
“We will sit in the presence of the stakeholders or without them, and engage in direct negotiations with the rebel movement,” Makuei said.
“We want peace . . . That is why we will go [to the talks] with an open heart and mind until we put an end to this war and achieve peace and security in this country,” he added.
IGAD had given the two parties a 60-day period, starting from June 10, to reach an agreement and form a transitional government as a way of ending the more than seven-month-long armed conflict, which killed thousands and brought the country to the brink of famine. Despite the close deadline, Makuei expressed the hope that the two sides would be able to make at least a start on the road to peace.
“When we start this round [of negotiations], we will have 10 days left of the [IGAD-set] period. It is impossible to reach an agreement within this [short] time, but we can make progress, if the rebels have a genuine will to reach peace,” the information minister said.
He expected that the round of talks would focus on the issue of ending hostilities and violations, which he said, were being carried out by the rebels.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dhieu Mathok, a senior official in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and a delegation member, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the movement’s delegation had not been officially informed by the mediators of the resumption of the new round of talks.
However, he said that representatives of the two parties to the conflict would hold a meeting in Addis Ababa on July 30 to discuss how the stakeholders could join in.
“The mediators will seek to correct their previous stance on the participation of the stakeholders by inviting other representatives from those impacted by the war in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Meetings may be held with them in the capitals of these countries to choose their representatives,” Mathok said.
He pointed out that his movement’s stance was that the existing stakeholders could only participate indirectly in the negotiations as observers, not as participants in the direct talks, which should be restricted to the two delegations. IGAD’s team of negotiators is chaired by Ethiopia, with the participation of Sudan and Kenya, all of which are neighbors with South Sudan.
The SPLM-IO believes that the civil society groups that were selected to participate in the process are on the side of the South Sudan government, unlike civil society groups drawn from the diaspora and areas under the movement’s control.
But Mathok emphasized the importance of taking steps toward establishing peace in the country.
“It is important that the negotiations should start and make a tangible progress that would make the people of South Sudan feel that the two parties are serious about ending the crisis,” Mathok told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He disclosed that the planned visit by Machar, the leader of his movement, to Khartoum would start after the Eid Al-Fitr break, saying that contacts were under way with the South Sudan government to coordinate the visit which he described as “important.”