JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Opposition groups attending a forum Monday in Addis Ababa walked out of the talks aimed at revitalizing a 2015 peace deal between South Sudan's government and rebel forces.
A coalition of nine groups held a news conference in the Ethiopian capital to accuse South Sudan's government of not taking seriously the high-level revitalization forum, or HLRF, and violating the latest cease-fire — the Cessation of Hostilities agreement — that was signed in December. A South Sudan army spokesperson dismissed the accusations, saying it is the rebels who are attacking government positions across the country.
Kwaje Lasu, who represents the nine opposition groups in Addis, said the coalition refused to enter the negotiating room Monday after South Sudan officials refused to sign a declaration of principles late last week.
"The government of South Sudan has demonstrated a lack of seriousness and political will to negotiate in good faith. This is demonstrated by its refusal to sign the declaration of principles that was jointly discussed and signed by all other parties to the revitalization process," Lasu said.
He said government forces have repeatedly attacked rebel positions in several areas since signing the cease-fire.
"The government continues its attack on opposition positions throughout the country, the latest of which is Nyatot in the Nasir area today. South Sudan, as an IGAD member, should recuse itself from the mediation in South Sudan's conflict," said Lasu. IGAD, or Intergovernmental Authority on Development, is a regional trade bloc that organized the forum.
Lasu said the coalition is demanding that the government reverse its position on several issues before the grouping returns to the bargaining table.
"The opposition group demands that the government of South Sudan sign the declaration of principles that is the basis of negotiation. Government forces must immediately withdraw from all positions they captured in violation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement, Article 3, Sub-article 2," Lasu added.
Accusations against rebels
Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang is a spokesperson for South Sudan's army, the SPLA. He called a separate news conference Monday in Juba to accuse rebels loyal to Riek Machar and opposition leader Lam Akol of looting and attacking government positions in the states of Lol and Kapoeta and in the town of Nasir in Latjor state.
"The renewed offensive attacks against SPLA positions in different parts of the country constitute a serious violation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. Looting of schools and civilian properties is a serious human rights violation and also constitutes a war crime," Koang said.
Koang said even though government troops continue to come under attack by rebels, government forces will respect the Cessation of Hostilities agreement.
"SPLA renewed its commitment to the observation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement, but will fight to contain agents of destruction from inflicting more harm on innocent civilians and wanton looting of their properties," Koang said.
Koang urged cease-fire monitors to investigate the latest violations and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Both government and opposition forces have committed multiple violations since the cease-fire began on Dec. 24, according to four separate investigations by the Cease-fire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, or CTSAMM, an independent body.
South Sudan in Focus placed several calls to CTSAMM, but the calls went unanswered.
It is not immediately clear when the nine opposition groups will return to the bargaining table in the second round of the HLRF in Addis. The talks were scheduled to run through the end of this week.
South Sudan's conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Machar, who was Kiir's deputy. The war has driven 2 million people from the country and left more than a million others a step away from famine, according to the United Nations.