ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA— Representatives for South Sudan's warring factions met face to face on Thursday to discuss the next round of peace talks. The negotiations in Addis Ababa have moved along slowly while forces for the two sides continue to battle in South Sudan.
After a week of delay, South Sudan government and rebel delegations began direct talks about the agenda for the peace negotiations.
The delay grew out of a dispute over whether seven former leaders of the ruling SPLM party, who were arrested shortly after fighting broke out in December, could take part in the talks.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said there was no reason for the former detainees to participate as a third party.
"They say that they are members of the SPLM, and that they are in conflict with the SPLM. What we are negotiating here, we are negotiating with people who are in conflict with the government, not the party. So the mechanism is that if they want their issues to be resolved, these are an inter-party issue, and it can be resolved through party mechanisms," he said.
Another reason for the delay was Uganda wanted to send observers to the negotiations, but the rebels have refused to allow this as long as Ugandan troops are in the country assisting the government.
Rebel delegation spokesman Yohanis Pouk said he was not too confident about the talks.
"Since the other party is not always serious about coming to the comprehensive solutions to this crisis. So I cannot assure you what will be the outcome," he said.
The items expected to top the agenda are implementation of the ceasefire deal signed in January and the issue of humanitarian access to people affected by the conflict.
The fighting between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and soldiers who back former vice president Riek Machar has left thousands dead and nearly a million displaced from their homes.
Peace talks mediated by the East African bloc IGAD started shortly after the start of the conflict, but appear to be making little progress. The ceasefire agreement has been repeatedly violated by troops on both sides.