— South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar says his side is no closer to agreeing to a peace deal following his meeting Saturday with African mediators.
Mediators from the East African regional group IGAD met with Machar in an undisclosed location in South Sudan.
Speaking to VOA by phone Sunday, Machar doused hopes for a negotiated settlement to end nearly a month of fighting.
He said the main sticking points are the continued detention of 11 opposition politicians who were arrested in the first few days of the crisis, as well as reports of Ugandan military support for South Sudan government forces.
“I think that we were not closer to a deal because apparently they have played down the importance of releasing the political detainees and also they have played down the importance of the fact that there is an invasion from Uganda of South Sudan,” he said.
Following meetings last week with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the political detainees, IGAD envoys said the detainees stated that their status “should not be an impediment to reaching an agreement.”
Uganda also denies allegations of military involvement in the conflict and says its troops are only in the country to protect Ugandan civilians.
A South Sudanese government officials said the IGAD mediators have returned to Addis Ababa where peace talks are to take place.
Machar said his team will stay engaged in negotiations in the Ethiopian capital with the aim of ending the violence.
“I’m interested in cessation of hostilities, after all I’m the underdog in the matter. Who would be interested more in cessation of hostilities?” he said.
Government troops have reclaimed territory seized by rebel factions of the armed forces in Unity State, and are closing in on a key opposition stronghold in Bor, capital of Jonglei state.
Fighting began in the capital, Juba, on December 15 when an ongoing political power struggle between President Kiir and Machar, his former vice president, escalated into a violent confrontation between security forces.
The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which has split factions of the military and has provoked inter-ethnic killings.
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