S.Sudan leader heads to peace talks as deadline looms
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir headed to peace talks aimed at brokering an end to civil war Sunday, reversing an earlier decision as international threats of possible sanctions mount.
However, while Cabinet Minister Elia Lomuro said that Kiir would join rebel leaders and regional presidents at the talks in neighbouring Ethiopia, it would not be possible to sign a full peace deal until all opposition factions could join the agreement.
Kiir will “explain to his colleagues the challenges that are now confronting the signing of the proposed signing of the compromise peace agreement,” Lomuro told reporters in the South Sudanese capital Juba, before Kiir flew to Addis Ababa.
South Sudan’s government and rebels are under intense diplomatic pressure to sign a deal by August 17 to end a 20-month civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
Kiir previously said he would send his deputy after complaining it was not possible to strike an effective deal because rebel forces have split.
But on Sunday he decided to go himself after consultations with regional leaders, who have already arrived in Addis Ababa for the summit meeting on Monday.
On Sunday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has sent troops into South Sudan to back Kiir, held talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is also in Addis Ababa.
“There is hope, as long as all of us want peace,” Lomuro said, after reporters asked if a deal would be signed on Monday.
– ‘Not afraid of sanctions’ –
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
On Tuesday, rebel generals said they had split from Machar.
“Riek Machar has already been ousted and disowned by his own army and politicians,” Lomuro added.
“If we are to sign peace then we have to sign a peace with all the factions and all the groups that are fighting.”
The latest round of talks opened on August 6, mediated 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.
Diplomats have warned any failure to sign a peace deal could trigger “serious consequences” for the rival leaders, but Lomuro said such threats were not helpful.
“We are not afraid of sanctions, this country belongs to us, the peace that we are talking belongs to us not to them,” Lomuro said.
Britain’s minister for Africa, Grant Shapps, warned on Friday of possible “targeted sanctions” and an arms embargo if no deal is made.
Marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, the war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. Recent attacks have included castration, burning people alive and tying children together before slitting their throats.
More than 70 percent of the country’s 12 million people need aid, while 2.2 million people have fled their homes, the UN says, with areas on the brink of famine.