S. Sudan government, rebels ready to negotiate ceasefire
By Waakhe Simon Wudu, AFP
January 2, 2014, 12:14 am TWN
JUBA -- South Sudan's warring parties were Wednesday set to begin peace talks aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-week-old civil war that has already left thousands dead.
Government and rebel officials confirmed their negotiating teams were either on their way or in the Ethiopian capital, and diplomats said they expected formal talks on a possible ceasefire to begin on Thursday, although informal contacts may take place later Wednesday.
Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said the talks would focus on “monitoring mechanisms for the ceasefire.”
“It's positive that they are sending delegations,” U.N. special envoy Hilde Johnson said in Juba, underscoring the dire need for “reconciliation and healing” at the talks, which are being brokered by Ethiopia on behalf of IGAD, an East African regional grouping.
“Negotiations also need to be accompanied by something else, a deeper process that focusses on national reconciliation between the communities. We have seen terrible acts or violence in the past two weeks ... and as we know if there is no one held accountable there is a major risk that the violence can continue,” she said.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan Dec. 15, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Machar has denied this, in turn accusing the president of conducting a violent purge of his opponents.
The fighting has spread across the country, with the rebels seizing several areas in the oil-rich north. On Tuesday the rebels also recaptured the town of Bor, capital of Jonglei state and situated just 200 kilometers north of the capital Juba, and fighting was reportedly continuing in the area on Wednesday.
Thousands of people are feared dead, U.N. officials say, while close to 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes — many seeking refuge with badly overstretched U.N. peacekeepers.