ADDIS ABABA — The second phase of peace talks between South Sudan’s fighting factions officially opened Tuesday in Ethiopia's capital. Despite earlier threats to boycott the proceedings, the rebels have committed to participating.
The first round of talks between the government and the rebels ended with two agreements: one calling for a cessation of hostilities, and the other dealing with the status of political detainees held by South Sudan government.
This second round of negotiations will focus on the political process to take South Sudan forward after weeks of fighting.
The lead negotiator says the negotiations should begin by acknowledging the collective failure in South Sudan.
“There were various indications that things were not going well," said Seyoum Mesfin of the East African Bloc IGAD. "The gaps between the demands of the people on the one hand and what the government was able to deliver was wide. Disillusionment with corruption and inadequate governance was high. The leadership failed to see this and to respond with a coherent policy and visible commitment to address the issues of peace, security and development in a coordinated way.”
The opposition, as the rebels call themselves, threatened to boycott negotiations if certain demands weren't met but ultimately agreed to participate in the next round of talks, which address root causes of the fighting and the goals of nation-building and national reconciliation.
The chief negotiator of the opposition side, General Taban Deng Gai, says the government's commitment to comply with the signed agreements is vital for the next round of talks.
“The agreement signed has not been honored to the fullest," he said. "Of the 11 detainees, only seven were released while four are still behind bars. This is another very serious violation of cessation of hostilities.”
Talks will start as soon as the seven released detainees arrive in Ethiopia. They are currently still in Kenya, where they were sent after their release last month.
The government of South Sudan says the other four will not be freed.
The government has accused the rebels of violating last month's agreements as well. Chief negotiator Nhial Deng Nhial blames the violations on the leadership of the opposition:
“We had expressed our concern about the inability to the other party on its own to control its forces and make them abide by the cessation of hostilities agreement,” he said.
The fighting sprung out of a political feud between high officials of South Sudan’s ruling party, the SPLM. The resulting conflict has killed thousands of South Sudanese and driven more than a half-million from their homes.