By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 19, 2014 (DEBRZEIT, ETHIOPIA) – Officials from the rebel SPLM/A-in-Opposition accused the leaders of South Sudan and Uganda on Wednesday of obstruction during the second round of peace talks in Ethiopia, aimed at securing a durable political settlement in the strife-torn nation.
Negotiations were initially scheduled to resume last week, but were subsequently delayed after rebels maintained their calls for the release of the four remaining political prisoners and the withdrawal of Ugandan forces currently supporting government troops.
A rebel official in Debrezeit town, the new venue for the talks, told Sudan Tribune that South Sudan president Salva Kiir, and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, were responsible for delays during the second round talks.
Bor Gatwech, a lawmaker and humanitarian liaison officer for the SPLM/A-In-Opposition, alleged the two leaders are hindering the second phase of peace talks from moving forward by continuing to violate the terms of a previously reached peace pact, signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 23 January.
Ongoing fighting between the two rivals, as well as the tit-for-tat allegations of violations, is threatening to derail the tenuous ceasefire agreement altogether.
Forces loyal to former vice-president turned rebel leader Rick Machar, claimed on Tuesday to have taken full control of Malakal, the oil-rich capital of Upper Nile state, and are now advancing towards Warrap state.
Both sides are trading accusations over who is responsible for triggering the latest breach of the truce agreement.
Rebels maintain that the South Sudan army (SPLA) and its military ally Uganda violated the truce shortly after it was signed, claiming they carried out bombardments and burnt down villages in Unity and Jonglei states.
The rebels allege that Kampala has continued to deploy thousands of its troops in South Sudan, in what Gatwech described as a clear violation of the peace pact.
“This violation also brings bad blood into the current second round of talks,” he added.
YOUTH RALLY CRITICISED
Meanwhile, rebel forces have also condemned a public rally organised in Juba last week by the youth wing of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Wednesday, rebel officials said the rally, held under the theme ‘One People, One Nation’, is a shame and “great insult” to the people of South Sudan.
“This is a mere propaganda by the killers and criminals who continue to murder our innocent civilian in Juba,” the statement said.
It is alleged that seven civilians from Unity state were massacred in their homes in Juba by militia forces loyal to Kiir prior the rally simply because they were ethnic Nuers.
Violence erupted in Sudan on 15 December following clashes between rival factions of the presidential guards.
The conflict has increasingly split along ethnic lines, with forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, and rebel fighters aligned with Machar, who hails from the Nuer tribe, battling for control of strategic areas.
Rebel forces have accused the SPLA of carrying out “barbaric and inhuman” atrocities in Unity State, Upper Nile State and Jonglei states.
“They have destroyed [the] governor residence in Malakal and destroyed ministry buildings. They have killed innocent civilians in Malakal and continue to do so in government-controlled areas,” the rebels said in the statement.
However, government representatives spoken to by Sudan Tribune have dismissed the allegations as “unfounded”.
One government representative said the claims as a complete fabrication and, describing the allegations as “simple propaganda”, aimed at attracting regional and
He further accused rebels of being the first party to violate the truce agreement.
The official warned the government would launch a major offensive should the rebels continue to engage in military confrontation rather than political dialogue.
The rebel humanitarian wing has accused an alleged mercenary from the Ugandan army (UPDF), as well as forces from SPLM-N and JEM, rebel groups active in Sudan, of carrying out ethnically motivated massacres in South Sudan.
“This is violation of the sovereignty of South Sudan and violation of international [law] and [the] UN charter, which does not allow interference by member states in other state affairs. The UN and the international community must condemn this interference in South Sudan Affairs,” the rebel group said.
Rebel forces maintain that there can be no lasting peace deal until Ugandan troops withdraw from the country.
Analysts have pointed out that despite immense political pressure on the two warring factions to reach a peaceful political settlement, both sides currently seem to favour military confrontation as a tactic aimed at securing the upper hand in ongoing negotiations.
The second round of negotiations has yet to get underway, with regional mediators deciding on Wednesday to relocate talks from the resort town of Debrezeit to Addis Ababa, the original venue.
Delegations are expected to arrive in the Ethiopian capital by Thursday, although no timetable has been announced on when talks would resume.