March 23, 2014 (JUBA) — The South Sudanese government has dispatched a delegation to the peace talks in Addis Ababa, again headed by Information Minister Michael Makuei. Last week the government boycotted the opening of the talks.
IGAD, the East African bloc of nations facilitating the peace process, has the financial and political backing of the ‘Troika’ governments of the US, Norway and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.
“Well, we’re going. The main purpose of our trip is that we reach lasting peace in South Sudan. We’re going with open minds and we’re going so that we can bring peace to South Sudan,” said the head of delegation.
“Until now we didn’t receive any agenda from the envoys, so for that reason we’re expecting when we arrive there they’ll give us their agenda,” he said, speaking to reporters before his departure from Juba Airport.
Makuei added that the government believes the participation of any third party in the negotiations may be detrimental to the progress of the talks.
On the day the new round of talks was meant to open last week, Thursday, the president’s spokesman Ateny Wek called a press conference at the government secretariat in Juba.
He explained that Salva Kiir refused to negotiate with the SPLM former detainees whom the mediation wished to include in the peace talks as a third party, next to the SPLM/A faction headed by Riek Machar.
“The president told the IGAD that the G7 members must be excluded from the talks simply because they do no fight the government. They are suspects and the government is calling for political dialogue within the party – inside South Sudan,” Ateny said.
Kiir does not want to deal with the ‘G7’ or group of seven, whose members include former cabinet minister Deng Alor and former justice minister John Luk. These politicians were detained without charge in Juba from mid-December until late January, until the president agreed to release them to Kenya.
Government protests IGAD communiqué
The government has asked the East African bloc IGAD to retract the demands they made at the Heads of State Summit on 13 March, specifically articles 10 and 11 of the communiqué issued at that meeting.
Ateny Wek last week went so far as to say the government delegation would not travel to Addis Ababa before the IGAD made amendment to the articles.
Article 10 of the IGAD communiqué “reaffirms the need for an inclusive political dialogue and further calls on the parties to include in the negotiations all South Sudanese stakeholders particularly SPLM Leaders (Former Detainees), other political parties and representatives of CSOs as deemed necessary by the Mediation Process.”
Article 11 “stresses the need to recognize the Former Detainees as positive contributors to the peace process.”
According to Ateny, the South Sudanese president rejected the IGAD communiqué. He insinuated that the Ethiopians, whose prime minister chairs IGAD, want to force a ‘constitutional conference’ for South Sudan in Addis Ababa, emphasizing that South Sudan is sovereign and that talks within the ruling party should only be held within the country.
This was apparently a reference to the IGAD-backed ‘second track’ of the talks aiming for political dialogue within the ruling party of South Sudan, facilitated by the ruling parties of South Africa and Ethiopia, ANC and EPRDF.
‘These people should not participate’
“You know, the so-called G7 – the seven political detainees – have started to cause havoc in the talks, because the mediators had wanted to create the third party in the negotiation table,” Ateny explained.
Separately, the UN Radio Miraya reported that the government intended to make the same demand, citing the information minister as saying he would bring a letter to the IGAD chairman registering the government’s protest of the inclusion of the group of seven.
“We are saying these people should not participate. They are not stakeholders,” the head of the government negotiations team told Radio Miraya.
The president’s spokesman, Ateny Wek, disclosed last Thursday that the president after consultations with his cabinet and representatives of other political parties decided that, if there is negotiation at all, then it should be between only the two warring parties, the ‘rebels’ and the government.
Kiir’s spokesman affirmed that political dialogue should be held inside South Sudan, in which the G7 and other stakeholders can participant, but not outside the country.
When asked about the safely of the ‘G7’ politicians should they travel back to South Sudan, he pointed out that nothing bad had happened to them while they were in custody, and added that in future talks they could participate under a government guarantee.