ADDIS ABABA: Warring parties in South Sudan failed to resume planned peace talks Thursday with fighting continuing on the ground, despite threats of possible sanctions if they fail to progress.
“The government is not serious about the talks,” rebel spokesman Yohannis Musa Pouk told AFP in the Ethiopian capital, where the talks were scheduled to have restarted.
The government has repeatedly said it is committed to the peace process, and has in turn accused the rebels of violating a January cease-fire.
The United States and the European Union threatened sanctions for both sides on Wednesday if they fail to progress with peace talks and stick to the cease-fire deal.
But government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told reporters in Juba the team had objected to the inclusion of seven opposition leaders in the rebel side for the talks, and were awaiting “clarification” from the mediators before progressing.
Rebels however insist that the seven men — arrested along with four leaders currently on trial for treason in Juba, but later released — must take part.
“We need to reach a comprehensive solution, and therefore the participation of the seven released political detainees is very important,” Pouk said.
Violence erupted in South Sudan on December 15 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and fighters loosely allied to former Vice President Riek Machar.
South Sudan’s army said Wednesday it had recaptured the key oil town of Malakal, which has swapped hands repeatedly between the two sides.
Rebels in turn said they were still in control, accusing fighter jets from Uganda — who has sent in forces to support Kiir — of strafing their positions.
Mediators from the regional East African IGAD bloc of nations said negotiations were still set to take place, but did not provide a date.
The dragging talks are aimed at ending over three months of fighting that has already killed thousands and forced nearly one million people from their homes.
Both sides signed a cease-fire agreement, but it has been repeatedly violated, with observers warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis.