The warring sides in South Sudan are preparing to launch military offensives as high-level peace talks continue in Addis Ababa, the Small Arms Survey reported in a press release Thursday.
Government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels who support former vice president Riek Machar "... have spent the rainy season reinforcing their military positions in Unity state - as elsewhere - in anticipation of a dry season military campaign," says the independent research group in Geneva.
Peace negotiations led by several outside parties, including the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), China and the African Union, have "... failed to overcome the substantial divergences between the two sides’ positions."
Both sides have been preparing for a possible military offensive even as peace talks continued during the rainy season, the report says.
Even an agreement reached last week in Arusha, Tanzania rings hollows, the report says. The agreeement was supposed to reunify South Sudan's dominant political party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
The parties to the agreement recommitted to a cessation of hostilities pact signed in January last year. The signing parties included the government, the armed opposition loyal to Machar, and a group of former SPLM officials who were detained when fighting broke out in December 2013. But that deal to end the fighting has been "repeatedly violated" since it was signed, the Small Arms Survey says.
Furthermore, following the signing of the Arusha reunification accord, the researchers say the two sides showed little sign of making good on the contents of the agreement. Machar's side immediately "...reiterated its call for... President Salva Kiir to step down, and Kiir responded by likening his opponents to beaten dogs," the researchers say.
The Small Arms Survey also noted that as the Arusha agreement was signed, government and rebel forces were involved in skirmishes in South Sudan.
Rebels warn of major army offensive
Machar's rebel group said Thursday that government forces are poised to launch a major, three-pronged offensive in Jonglei state, targeting areas inhabited by members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group.
In an email statement, the military spokesman for Machar's armed opposition warned that rebel forces were prepared to take on the government's "genocidal forces."
Lul Ruai Koang warned that a government attack on rebel-held positions in Jonglei state would be a suicide mission and "... will meet strong resistance that might trigger a chain of catastrophic events with disastrous outcomes."
Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman Philip Aguer said government troops are "on maximum alert" but denied that they were planning an offensive against the rebels.
"But if they’re attacked, they have the right to pursue the enemy up to where they’re mobilizing and where they’re organizing their offensive,” Aguer said.
The SPLA spokesman said the rebels were behind clashes in the past few weeks.
Aguer told South Sudan in Focus, "They have been attacking SPLA several times. We have been calling on IGAD to convince the rebels to accept monitoring of the ceasefire and bring their monitors onboard. The rebels have rejected and IGAD has not moved to convince them.”
The Small Arms Survey report, Koang's warning of a looming government offensive and Aguer's denial all came as President Kiir met with Machar in Addis Ababa to try again to hammer out a deal that brings peace to South Sudan.