JUBA — The latest round of peace talks for South Sudan was delayed Tuesday after the government objected to President Salva Kiir and opposition chief Riek Machar being called "stupid" by an official from the bloc mediating the talks, and the opposition said the negotiations were not inclusive enough.
South Sudan Foreign Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin urged Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to take action against Mahboub Maalim, the executive secretary of IGAD, which is brokering the talks, after he was quoted in media reports as calling Mr. Kiir and Machar "stupid" for thinking they can win the months-long conflict in South Sudan on the battlefield.
Mr. Kiir's spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said IGAD must apologize "because it was clear that Mahboub has insulted the principals."
"There is no need for such a low-ranking official to insult the head of state. Even if he was the president of IGAD, he cannot equate himself with the head of the state because IGAD comprises of countries that are sovereign... whoever works with IGAD must respect heads of state,” he said.
Wek said another reason the talks were delayed is because opposition delegates did not arrive on time. The latest round of talks was supposed to begin on Monday.
Opposition spokesman Hussein Mar Nyuot said the opposition was also angered by the off-color statement made by Maalim, but said the main reason the opposition boycotted the talks was because they felt they were not fully inclusive.
"So many voices are not represented here," Mar Nyuot said.
"The civil society which are supposed to be here, the voices of the victims, other political parties that actually fled the country and all these people are not represented in this. We want all the stakeholders of South Sudan to attend these peace talks so that we could actually reach a durable peace," he said.
Mar Nyuot said the opposition would be willing to let the talks go ahead once their concerns have been addressed. He said his side is reviewing new proposals from the mediators and will reach a decision soon.
Wek said the government is not pulling out of the talks but wants IGAD officials to act responsibly.
“We don’t want to continue fighting. So we don’t have any alternative to negotiating a peace settlement ... but at the same time, we shouldn’t be taken for granted," he said.