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South Sudan Peace Talks Stuck on Issue of Detainees

Spokesperson for the South Sudanese rebels Hussein Maar Nyout addresses journalists during ongoing negotiations with the South Sudanese government, in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Jan. 9, 2014.
Talks to bring peace to South Sudan appeared deadlocked Thursday as fighting between rival factions continues across the country. A political solution to the crisis remains elusive as neither side in the conflict will agree to budge on the issue of political detainees.

Delegations for South Sudanese rebels and the government remain in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for talks aimed at ending nearly a month of violence across South Sudan.

The fighting sprang from a power struggle between South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his chief rival, former vice president Riek Machar. Clashes that began in Juba on December 15 have since spread to other parts of the country, pitting rival divisions of the armed forces and allied militias against one another.

A spokesperson for the opposition’s negotiating team, Mabior Garang, said they are waiting for guidance from mediators before resuming the talks.

“We are here in the peace talks with an open mind, and so we are ready to see what the mediators are going to propose and then as a group we can come to a decision,” he said.

The East African group of nations known as IGAD is leading the mediation efforts. Three IGAD envoys visited with President Kiir in Juba on Wednesday to seek a way forward in the talks.

They also met with several political prisoners who were detained by the government in the first days of the crisis, accused of plotting a coup.

The opposition has insisted that the detainees - who include Machar’s political allies - be released before agreeing to a cessation of hostilities.

South Sudan foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol Arik, speaking by phone from Juba, said the government cannot accept those terms.

“The position of government is clear, that the detainees are not going to be released, they should not be released with the current efforts to find a way for the cessation of hostilities and finally a cease-fire,” he said.

Meantime, fighting has been reported this week in the rebel-held cities of Bor, capital of Jonglei State, and Bentiu in Unity State.

While the violence began as a political dispute, it has taken on ethnic dimension with targeted killings and attacks between supporters of Kiir, a Dinka, and Machar, from the Nuer community.

At least 1,000 people have been killed since the violence began, with more than 200,000 displaced.