ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA— The second round of the South Sudan peace talks has been delayed over the issue of who can participate.
South Sudan's government made clear it doesn't want to take part in the peace process if a group of former high-ranking political leaders - whom the government detained after fighting broke out in December – join the talks as a third party.
Former minister and political detainee, Deng Alor, said without this group the political divisions in the Juba government that precipitated the fighting remain and there will be no peace.
"The problem started within the political bureau, it started with us [the third group],” he said. “We differed on issues of reforms and democracy in the party. We insisted on reforms. If you want to resolve this crisis you've got to resolve the differences within the ruling party."
After more than three months of fighting, the only achievement of the peace process has been a ceasefire – which has been repeatedly violated since January.
International diplomats are losing patience and this week warned all the stakeholders there will be consequences for those who obstruct progress.
"If the government or any other actor tried to undermine the peace process and rebuff the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) heads of state, they will face consequences,” U.S. Special Envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth said. “The people of South Sudan expect renewal. They expect their voices to be heard in forging a more sustainable peace. Business as usual is not a viable way forward."
General Taban Deng Gai, the lead negotiator for the opposition – loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, said that unlike the government of President Salva Kiir, they are willing to talk with all concerned.
"We shall discuss peace with whoever is on the table,” Taban said. “If it's the government alone, then we will sit with the government. But the other political leaders, they are also ready. We hope for inclusivity, but if he government insists that it can only be us and they, then I don't think we can adjourn peace because of other political leaders."
Civic groups also came to Addis Ababa this month to discuss how they too can be included in the peace talks.
Lona James, who heads a South Sudanese women's advocacy group, said the people are suffering in the fighting and they too deserve a voice in making it stop.
"[We] urge the IGAD mediators to accredit representatives of the civil society to the peace process as important stakeholders, provide funding for their involvement and to maintain a platform for dialogue between civil society and the conflicting parties," James said.
Mediators from the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have not commented on the latest delay.
Fighting has killed thousands across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced and there are warnings South Sudan could face a famine unless farmers feel safe enough to return to their homes and plant their fields.