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South Sudan Rebel Leader Warns of Peace Talks Failure

FILE - South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar addresses journalists during a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, July 8, 2015.

South Sudan’s former vice president and leader of the rebels, Riek Machar, has expressed concern that proposals in an agreement to be discussed at the peace talks with President Salva Kiir have been “hijacked” in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

In an interview with VOA, Machar blames Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Kiir for changing the text of proposals previously agreed to by both parties, ahead of the resumption of the peace talks.

Machar says he was informed about changes in the proposal by Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, who is also a mediator of the peace negotiations.

Machar says it appears Museveni has teamed up with Kiir to derail the peace negotiations. He says the proposals were changed to favor the government in Juba.

Machar outlined what he calls unacceptable changes:

“There was a provision in the peace agreement that says the national capital shall be demilitarized. ... This has been changed. To us this is a very critical issue; this is a deal breaker. The second issue is that the power sharing is limited to the national institutions, and I believe to the executives alone. There would be no power sharing in the states,” said Machar.

“The changes made in Kampala by President Museveni, I think there would be no peace agreement at all," he added. "And also, the security arrangement would be left to the four chiefs of staff of the four countries, and that is Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. Our fate cannot be determined by other people; we should negotiate it ourselves. This is another deal breaker.”

Both Kiir and Machar were scheduled to resume peace negotiations in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Friday. The talks were to be mediated by the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

The talks are expected to be concluded by August 17, a deadline issued by IGAD. IGAD officials have warned that both parties would have to sign a peace deal before leaving Ethiopia.

But Machar says the IGAD-issued deadline is unlikely to be met because of what he says has been a change in the proposal of the agreement. He says Museveni is partly to blame for the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.

Machar says the rebel group plans to petition IGAD to protest the changes made to the proposed agreement.

“The whole thing to me is off, because what would be discussed on the 17th? Are we going to discuss the Kampala agreement or are we going to discuss the proposed compromised agreement which was delivered by the IGAD Plus? There seems now confusion,” said Machar.

“We will put our protest in writing. We have told the mediator ... that it might be better off if they called off the whole process because an embarrassment would take place, and we don’t want to embarrass anybody.”

Critics say Kiir has squandered the country’s good will since it became the world’s newest nation. They also expressed disappointment that both Kiir and Machar have yet to ensure peace is restored to South Sudan despite repeated peace negotiations mediated by IGAD.

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