People carry pro-government banners during a peace march in
South Sudan's capital Juba. REUTERS/James Akena
South Sudanese rebels have turned down a government plan
to end a dispute over detainees and unblock peace talks aimed
at halting violence that has killed at least 1,000 people in
the world's youngest state.
Three weeks of fighting, often along ethnic faultlines, has
pitted President Salva Kiir's SPLA government forces against
the rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar and
brought the oil exporting nation close to civil war.
Both sides met face-to-face for a first time on Tuesday in
Addis Ababa in a bid to agree a ceasefire but faced new
delays after Kiir refused a rebel demand to release 11
detainees, who were arrested last year over an alleged coup
On Wednesday, the government proposed to shift the peace
talks to the United Nations compound in Juba, enabling the 11
detainees to attend the negotiations during the day and
return to custody in the evening.
"They seem to have rejected that," South Sudan's presidential
spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.
Taban Deng Gai, the head of the opposition delegation at the
Addis Ababa talks, said Juba was not a good venue. "I don't
think that will be accepted from this side because Juba is a
big prison," he said.
The fighting is the worst in South Sudan since it won
independence from Sudan in 2011 in a peace deal that ended
one of Africa's longest civil wars. It has also displaced
over 200,000 people and cut oil exports.
Both sides on Wednesday reported fighting around Bor, north
Peter Biar Ajak, Executive Director of the Juba-based Center
for Strategic Analyses and Research, said most of the 11
detainees were not outright Machar supporters, but part of a
group made up of ex-comrades of the late Sudanese liberation
hero John Garang, known as the "Garang Boys".
"You are not going to have a lasting solution without this
group being involved," Ajak told Reuters by phone, adding
that Machar would need the backing of the group to have any
hope of gaining wide support outside his own Nuer ethnic
The rebels had initially demanded the release of the
detainees before the talks, but have since agreed to
negotiate a ceasefire and the status of the detainees.
"It is a decision that we will have to make as a group,"
Mabior said when asked whether Machar's delegation would
withdraw from the talks if the detainees were not freed.
Both sides were due to discuss their positions on Wednesday,
but this did not take place, because the delegates were
awaiting the return From Juba of envoys of the
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional
grouping of east African nations that initiated the talks.
The envoys had travelled to Juba where they tried in vain to
persuade Kiir to free the detainees, and arrived back in
Addis on Wednesday evening.
FIGHTING NEAR BOR
Lul Ruai Koang, military spokesman for the opposition, told
journalists in Addis that rebel forces had attacked
government troops near the town of Bor, near the capital.
Koang said his troops were near Juba and would await a
command from the rebels' political leaders to attack the town
if the peace talks break down. "We are ready, and once we are
told what to do we'll get into action," he said.
In Juba, the government's military spokesman Philip Aguer
said there had been fighting around Bor, and elsewhere,
including the Upper Nile state where some of the country's
oil fields are located.
Politician David Yau Yau, who has in the past led a rebellion
against South Sudan's army in the vast Jonglei state had
joined the government troops, Aguer said. Yau Yau was not
immediately available to comment.
The lack of progress in the peace talks has unnerved foreign
powers, who worry that South Sudan could spiral into
full-blown civil war.
China, the biggest investor in South Sudan's oil industry
through state-owned Chinese oil giants National Petroleum
Corp (CNPC) and Sinopec, called on Monday for an immediate
ceasefire. The unrest has forced the government to cut oil
production by about a fifth.
All of landlocked South Sudan's oil is piped through its
northern neighbor, providing vital hard currency in transit
fees for Khartoum. Oil major BP estimates that South Sudan
holds sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest reserves.