One of the chief mediators in the South Sudan peace talks pleaded with the two warring factions to urgently resolve their differences so that parents in the world's newest nation can stop burying their children.
In a country of war, it is the parents who bury their sons and daughters, while in a country of peace, it is the sons and daughters who bury their parents.
“In a country of war, it is the parents who bury their sons and daughters, while in a country of peace, it is the sons and daughters who bury their parents," Ethiopian diplomat Seyoum Mesfin told a news conference Monday at the close of preliminary talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) between the two sides in the South Sudan conflict.
"South Sudan has been more than two, three generations since the parents were burying their sons and daughters," he said.
Just two and a half years after the country gained its hard-fought independence after a decades-long war with Sudan, "again, parents are burying their loved ones, their sons and daughters," he added, pleading with South Sudanese leaders to bury their differences and make peace to finally end the suffering of the people.
Seyoum was speaking after preliminary negotiations wrapped up in Addis Ababa between delegates representing South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, the two main protagonists in the fighting that has claimed more than than 1,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands in three weeks.
The two sides on Tuesday held a first day of what Seyoum said would be "substantive" talks focussed on the cessation of hostilities and the status of 11 senior members of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) who were detained by the government in the days following the outbreak of fighting in Juba on Dec. 15.
Machar has called for the detainees to be released so that they could be part of his negotiating team in Addis Ababa, but Kiir has insisted that the talks go ahead without preconditions and ruled out releasing the detainees.
The U.S. State Department called for the SPLM leaders to be released so that they could take part in the talks in the Ethiopian capital.
"We do believe that to be meaningful and productive, senior SPLM leaders currently detained in Juba need to be present for political discussions, which are happening in Addis," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said..
"To help move these talks forward, we urge the government of South Sudan to uphold its commitments and release political detainees immediately," she said.
Kiir, who has said the unrest that has spread around South Sudan was triggered by a failed coup attempt by soldiers loyal to Machar, has said the detainees will only be released "after legal procedures have been exhausted," adding that "they will be released, but not as a precondition for talks.”