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South Sudan Recalls Top Envoys Amid Conflict

  • Peter Clottey

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir speaks after meeting with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 6, 2014.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir speaks after meeting with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 6, 2014.

South Sudan’s foreign minister has denied media reports that top envoys to Washington and other countries were recalled after they failed to convince the host countries that there was an attempt to overthrow President Salva Kiir’s administration.

The government in Juba has so far recalled its top diplomats to Washington, Moscow, Addis Ababa and Brussels. Barnaba Marial Benjamin says the recalls are part of a normal diplomatic shuffle.

“This call is the normal routine in foreign affairs. We had recalled them previously for a briefing. Now it is a form of general transfer within the ministry of foreign affairs,” said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s foreign minister. “Some of them will go to new places, others will come to the headquarters, and it is a transfer within the ministry, and that by the way is the first transfer to occur in the ministry of foreign affairs.”

Benjamin also said rebels had not demanded that the African Union (AU) replace mediators from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), at the peace negotiations in Ethiopia saying IGAD would have communicated any such development.

He says IGAD has a successful track record of mediating peace talks in the region.

“IGAD has got all the capabilities to see that these peace talks go forward,” said Benjamin. “I’m sure IGAD is still committed to the talks and we have not received any message of that kind from either IGAD or the African Union for any move of the talks, not at all. IGAD is still continuing the negotiations and is in charge of the process, because the facilitators that are involved are highly qualified.”

Peace negotiations in Ethiopia appeared to have stalled following a resumption of clashes between the national army and rebels allied to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar.

Both sides have accused each other of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed between the parties in Ethiopia at the IGAD mediated peace talks.

But, Benjamin says the rebels are to blame for the resumption in violence.

“Our government concern is expressed in the fact that the rebels have been violating the cessation of hostilities. Since the 18th of this month, they attacked Malakal and they have been attacking many other areas and that is a clear violation of the cessation of hostilities,” said Benjamin.

“The government has restrained itself and has been on the self-defense, while the government has the capacity to pursue them, and pursue them were they are,” said Benjamin. “But because the government is committed to the peace talks because we believe this is a senseless war that’s why the talks have been continuing.”

Nhial Deng Nhial, the chief negotiator for the government at the peace talks in Ethiopia who had returned to Juba for consultations before the next round of negotiations, has now returned to Addis Ababa. Benjamin says the government in Juba is not to blame for the stalled peace talks.

“Our chief negotiator went back today after being given the go ahead for the second part of negotiations to go ahead. So any stalling of talks is not from our side. It’s on the side of the rebels who are left and right violating the cessation of hostilities agreement, and I think the IGAD countries will handle that with them,” said Benjamin.