South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar said in an interview this week that he backs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development's (IGAD) stewardship at long-running peace talks between his side and the government, but wants the process to be more inclusive.
Machar also said a statement attributed to IGAD Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim, calling him and President Salva Kiir stupid, was "unfortunate" but should not be allowed to stall the peace process.
"I've not been known for being stupid," said Machar, who has a degree in engineering from the University of Khartoum and a doctorate in philosophy and strategic planning from Britain's University of Bradford.
"That reference was very unfortunate and I would have thought Mahboub would apologize and we would continue with the peace process," he said, stressing that the opposition wants the talks to move forward.
I've not been known for being stupid.
The latest round of peace talks for South Sudan was supposed to start Monday, but neither the government nor opposition delegates showed up.
In a speech to lawmakers in Juba Thursday, Mr. Kiir said the government delegation will not return to the talks until he gets an apology from IGAD Chair, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. Mr. Kiir has also called for Maalim to be punished for his statement.
Opposition wants greater inclusivity
The opposition said its negotiators were no-shows for the talks, not because of the comment made by Maalim, but because it wants the peace process to be more representative and include civil society, political and faith-based groups that fled South Sudan when fighting broke out in mid-December.
"Those who have a problem with the government in Juba have fled the country," Machar said in the interview with South Sudan in Focus.
"Those who felt things are not right and want a peace agreement and a change in the government structures are the ones abroad. They are the victims," Machar said. He has asked IGAD to include those groups in the peace talks, he said.
As for the groups who have stayed in South Sudan throughout more than six months of violence, some of whom were in Addis Ababa for the talks, Machar said, "I don't consider them victims."
"They are not under fear, are not coerced by anybody. Probably, they are pro-government civil society organizations," Machar said.
While the opposition leader did not say he wanted pro-government groups excluded from the talks, he insisted that the IGAD-brokered negotiations must be more "transparent," and include exiled groups.
South Sudan in Focus
Twitter followers and website readers were astounded that the talks had stalled over an insult.
"Well done IGAD," commented Lisa from Texas on an earlier story about the delay to the talks. "I once said there is no law against stupidity, so why SPLM are mad?"
IGAD said in a statement that the talks are due to resume on Friday.