ADDIS ABABA - The U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, called on South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to set personal ambitions aside and commit to reaching a peace deal at talks in Addis Ababa.
"I think the leaders of South Sudan are the ones who have let down the people of South Sudan," Booth told South Sudan in Focus.
"I urge that they summon the political will and moral courage to look beyond any self-interests and make the compromises that are needed to achieve an enduring peace in South Sudan," Booth said.
Booth is in the Ethiopian capital for what one of the mediators of the talks has called a last chance for peace in South Sudan. The latest round of peace talks got under way on Monday and are supposed to lead to a final peace deal for South Sudan by March 5. They are being mediated by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Representatives for the two sides in South Sudan's 14-month-old conflict have been meeting in Addis at the committee level to discuss issues of governance, security and the economy. President Kiir has not shown up in Addis Ababa for the talks so far in spite of promising to attend when he met with Machar at the end of January.
"What concerns us is that commitments made by the leaders, we would like to see them respected. Their presence will be necessary here in order to make decisions and compromises. If they're not sitting around the table together, they're basically letting others exercise leadership -- and they are the leaders," Booth said.
"Their engagement and their leadership is going to be absolutely necessary to achieve peace," he said.
Booth said if the March 5 deadline comes and goes without a peace deal, the United States would "be very disappointed" but will continue to work with IGAD, the African Union and other international partners to bring peace to South Sudan. "It is time to get to a peace agreement and to start putting South Sudan back together," Booth said.
"Let the people go back to their homes. Let them resettle and get this country moving forward again," he said.
An estimated two million people have been forced from their homes and tens of thousands have been killed in 14 months of fighting in South Sudan. The two sides have never adhered to a cessation of hostilities brokered by IGAD in January of last year.