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South Sudan Rebel Leader Tells President to Attend Peace Talks

Rebel soldiers patrol and protect civilians as they walk through flooded areas to reach a camp for the displaced in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in the town of Bentiu, South Sudan.

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar is adding his voice to the growing chorus calling on President Salva Kiir to come to the latest round of peace talks in Addis Ababa. Regional mediators have called it the last chance to end the conflict.

In a statement, Machar says it is time the president “packed his suitcase and came to Addis Ababa" so that the two men can "quickly work out the terms of the peace agreement.”

Machar says he has been waiting in the Ethiopian capital since last week for Mr. Kiir to show up. When the two men last met at the end of January, Machar and Mr. Kiir agreed to return to Addis Ababa on Feb. 20 for a last round of talks to iron out any remaining differences.

Deadline looms

The talks' mediators, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have called this latest round of talks a last chance for peace in South Sudan. IGAD has given the two sides until March 5 to reach a final peace deal.

Machar says Mr. Kiir's absence during the first week of talks in Addis Ababa means “...we have already wasted a chunk of ... days.”

Machar’s deputy secretary for foreign affairs, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, told South Sudan in Focus Mr. Kiir's absence is holding up the talks. He said that opposition negotiators can consult with Machar if they get "stuck" on an issue.

"But Salva is not here. His team is here but they cannot consult with anybody," Gatkuoth said.

Regrettable absence

The United States, United Kingdom and Norway, which make up the troika for South Sudan, last week called Mr. Kiir’s absence from the talks regrettable. The U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, told South Sudan in Focus he expects Mr. Kiir to stick to the promise he made last month to attend this latest round of talks. Booth said without both Kiir and Machar at the negotiating table, the talks are unlikely to achieve their goal.

Gatkuoth agreed. "These negotiations are meant for the two principals to negotiate directly and end the war," he said. "We need Salva as soon as possible to come to Addis Ababa to start negotiating because we need to end this war as soon as possible."

Banguot Amoum is representing a South Sudanese women's group at the talks. A former member of parliament for Pibor county in Jonglei state, Amoum said Mr. Kiir needs to show leadership and attend the Ethiopian negotiations.

South Sudanese are desperate for good news from Addis Ababa, and Amoum said they expect Mr. Kiir to bring it to them.

"We ask the president of the country to be the one championing peace because the people of South Sudan, they know the person they voted for... all hope is on him," she said.

South Sudan government spokesman Michael Makuei has said Mr. Kiir will travel to Addis Ababa when his presence is needed.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the  South Sudan In Focus radio program.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon

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