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Regional bloc to blame for stalling South Sudan peace talks, says rebel negotiator

media Girls playing at an Internally Displaced Persons camp at the UN base in Malakal, 24 July 2014. It’s thought that 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu

South Sudanese rebels say they blame the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for the slow pace of peace talks between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Chief rebel negotiator Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol told RFI on Thursday that the regional bloc is preventing direct talks between the government and Riek Machar’s group. The last round of peace talks in June stalled with both sides blaming each other. Meanwhile, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between government forces and rebels over the past seven months. Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol spoke to RFI from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

IGAD has said that your side failed to turn up to the peace talks this week. Is that true?

It’s not true. The SPLM/SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Movement/ Sudan People's Liberation Army) is still engaged. Yesterday we had two meetings for the top committee of security and humanitarian affairs. We are still at the table with the government.

Why have the peace talks stalled?

The peace talks, actually, could not stall. But the reality is this, the SPLM/SPLA and the government of the Republic of South Sudan asked for direct negotiation so that we can end the war. We want to have direct talks and the others, the stakeholders – civil society, the political party and the faith-based groups – should be consulted. That is our position. But IGAD has a different position. A roundtable will not bring peace to South Sudan.

So you’re blaming IGAD. Would you then suggest that the mediators move out of the way?

Exactly, it is the failure of the mediators. The government of the Republic of South Sudan, who is fighting us, wrote a letter to the IGAD mediators that they would like to meet with the SPLM, the opposition, to discuss how to end the conflict and we share the government’s position, let us end the war now. These things require the two warring parties to sit at the negotiation table. Meanwhile, the others will be consulted.

IGAD has set a deadline of 10 August to agree on a transitional government and ceasefire. Is this achievable?

Time has been wasted by IGAD themselves. They sent us out of the peace talks and then we spent more than 30-something days without negotiating because they have their own model. They want to experiment, [using] a model that could not work. They believe that the crisis in South Sudan is like the one in Kenya 2007/2008, which is not true. They believe that it is a model like the one of Zimbabwe, which is not true. We have a serious crisis, the army is divided, the civil servants are divided, everything, the political party is divided. So we think that those models that were used in Kenya and Zimbabwe are not applicable in South Sudan. We need direct talks - we want to discuss the reforms in the security sector, reforms in the judiciary, reforms in the civil service. All of these reforms, we want to discuss them, after that we’ll have a government of national unity which can bring [together] all the stakeholders and we’ll implement it.

Is the government of South Sudan refusing to take part in direct talks because of the IGAD mediation?

The government wrote a letter yesterday, ‘let us have direct talks with the opposition’. Today, civil society, one of the stakeholders, also in their consultation with IGAD, they told them, ‘we need direct negotiation with the government and the opposition, and the others will be consulted’. But the mediators are refusing. They believe that these round tables should be introduced. Meanwhile, the stakeholders themselves are of the opinion that these things will not bring peace, why should they [IGAD] insist?

China and the troika, of the US, UK and Norway, have been critical of the setbacks in these talks, describing it as moving at a snail’s pace. Is this a concern for you?

These are the partners of the peace talks who are supporting us with funds. But we told them, ‘you need to evaluate, critically, the trend IGAD is moving towards’. IGAD is not moving in the right direction. The partners, China and the troika, and the other partners, they are supposed to sit down and evaluate the process itself, because the failure is from IGAD.

There have already been US and EU sanctions imposed. IGAD leaders have also threatened sanctions. Do you think it will go this far?

You know the sanctions introduced by the Americans and the EU - we believe they aren’t effective. These sanctions are on individuals, individuals who don’t even have a role in the conflict. We believe that if they want to introduce effective sanctions they must introduce them on institutions. The government of South Sudan is still buying arms that China is supplying. And they are blaming the warring parties in the [UN] Security Council, but they are fighting a war, meanwhile they are ones selling the arms. So we believe that these sanctions were not effective.

You’ve been very critical of IGAD. Do IGAD, in your opinion, have some kind of motive?

IGAD needs, actually, to evaluate the process by which we find peace. This process was started seven months ago and hasn’t moved. We have been discussing the procedural issues, how the roundtable or how the negotiations should be conducted. We want to get into details, we want to face substantive issues, we want to discuss the issues of the root causes - we want to discuss the issues of reintroduction of the state’s place in the federal system. We want to discuss the reforms, so that we find a strong peace.

Who do you blame within the IGAD mediation team?

We don’t blame any particular person because IGAD is working as an institution. The blame should go to all the IGAD countries.

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