A soldier on January 18, 2014 in Bor, a strategic town South Sudanese government forces, backed by Ugandan troops, recaptured from rebel forces
February 10, 2014, Addis Ababa (AFP) — Ethiopia on Monday called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, notably Ugandans, from South Sudan, warning of a threat of regional conflict.
“Because of this intervention, the conflict might end up as a regional conflict because there are other interests also from other sides,” Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters.
South Sudan has been embroiled in deadly fighting since mid-December when clashes between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar erupted in the young nation.
Kiir asked Ugandan forces to protect key infrastructure in Juba, including the airport and the presidential palace, but the presence of Ugandan troops has been fiercely condemned by Machar and his allies.
The warring parties signed a shaky ceasefire on January 23 that included a call for the incremental exit of all foreign forces, a major sticking point in the peace talks that kicked off in the Ethiopian capital early last month.
Hailemariam called for the withdrawal of alien forces in order to end the conflict that has killed thousands and displaced 900,000 people.
“I hope for the cessation of hostilities…, Ugandan forces and all other external forces must withdraw from that area phase by phase,” he said.
Despite the agreement signed last month, sporadic fighting has continued in South Sudan, where aid agencies have warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis.
A new round of peace talks was set to begin Monday between government and opposition parties but was delayed until Tuesday for logistical reasons, mediators said.
Rebels threatened to block the talks, demanding the withdrawal of Ugandan troops along with the release of four political detainees arrested after fighting erupted on December 15.
The latest round of talks, mediated by regional bloc IGAD, is aimed at addressing the roots of the crisis in order to forge long-term political solutions.
Oil-rich but deeply impoverished South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 following decades of civil war.
South Sudan rebels say they will boycott latest peace talks
February 10, 2014 (Reuters) – South Sudanese rebels threatened on Monday to boycott the next round of peace talks in Ethiopia unless the government freed political prisoners and sent home the Ugandan troops who have been supporting it.
But the regional IGAD bloc mediating the talks, due to resume on Tuesday, said rebel leader Riek Machar had agreed to have his delegation take part in the talks.
The Addis Ababa talks, which secured a ceasefire last month, aim to end a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of people and displaced more than half a million South Sudanese since it broke out on December 15.
The rebels said they wanted four remaining political prisoners held by the Juba government to be released and the Ugandan army, which has been backing President Salva Kiir, to withdraw from South Sudan.
“We are abstaining from participating in the next round of peace talks,” the rebels said in a statement late on Monday.
But Seyoum Mesfin, chief mediator for the regional IGAD bloc leading the negotiations, said the statement was at odds with previous stance and promises from Machar, a former vice president.
“It contradicts the commitment of their leader who assured the envoys…that he would not put those demands and positions as a condition. That would be tantamount to holding hostage the people and the nation because of those demands,” Seyoumn told reporters in Addis Ababa.
FREED POLITICAL PRISONERS
The United States expressed concern on Saturday over reported violations of a shaky ceasefire agreement between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces and urged the removal of foreign fighters engaged in the conflict.
The U.S. has also previously requested for the South Sudan government to release the last four of a group of 11 detainees held on suspicion of trying to stage a coup.
Seyoum said the talks have been delayed by a day so that seven freed political prisoners – out of the 11 originally arrested – can travel to Addis Ababa to take part in the talks.
However, Seyoum added that the former prisoners did not wish to side with the rebels or the government and might instead form a “third block” in the talks.
“They rather would like us to prepare a sort of a triangular table for their negotiations,” Seyoum added.
The rebels in their statement said they had evidence that the Ugandan army was “still actively engaged in combat” despite a ceasefire, and accused Kiir’s forces of besieging a United Nations compound housing displaced people in Juba.
Both sides have in the past accused each other of wanton killings and ethnic-based reprisals.