ADDIS ABABA - Delegates at peace talks for South Sudan have reached preliminary agreement on withdrawing foreign forces that have been fighting in the country since conflict broke out 14 months ago, a participant in the negotiations said Tuesday.
“We agreed on the disengagement, separation and withdrawal of the forces, including the allied forces," said Emmanuel Poul, who is representing civil society groups on a committee discussing security issues at the Addis Ababa peace talks.
Poul did not specify which foreign forces he was referring to but said they are "from our region."
Uganda sent forces into South Sudan shortly after the young country plunged into violence in December 2013. Kampala originally said its forces were in South Sudan to protect and evacuate Ugandans, but early in the conflict Uganda said it was helping the South Sudan army to fight rebels in key towns, including the capital, Juba.
Ugandan forces are still in South Sudan, even though the rebel group loyal to former vice president Riek Machar has been calling for them to be withdrawn, in line with a cessation of hostilities agreement signed in January 2014.
Second day of peace talks
The tentative agreement on withdrawing foreign forces came on the second day of peace talks for South Sudan. Ethiopian diplomat Seyoum Mesfin, who is the lead mediator for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) at the talks, has called this round of negotiations the last chance to restore peace. IGAD has been leading the South Sudan peace process for nearly 14 months, but has little to show for it, other than an oft-violated cessation of hostilities agreement signed in January last year.
Delegates in Addis Ababa also discussed issues of governance, the South Sudan economy, and how to reunify the SPLM party, which split into rival factions when the fighting broke out.
Last month, the SPLM factions agreed at talks in Arusha, Tanzania, to reunify the party. But on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, the committee tasked with discussing the Arusha deal failed to agree on how to implement the broader power-sharing proposal, which is a key to restoring peace..
The committee discussing South Sudan's economic and financial future also hit a snag when delegates failed to agree on wealth-sharing in South Sudan.
Government spokesman Michael Makuei said that, in spite of the obstacles, he remained hopeful the two sides will reach a final peace deal by IGAD's March 5 deadline.
The latest round of talks for South Sudan has gotten under way without President Salva Kiir in attendance. The United States, United Kingdom and Norway, which together make up the troika for South Sudan, said in a statement released Monday that they were "deeply concerned" by Kiir's absence.
Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.