South Sudan mediators attack 'unacceptable' talks failure

Women are screened for malnutrition at a UN clinic in northern Jonglei, South Sudan (03 March 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The conflict in South Sudan has left an estimated 2.5 million people facing severe food shortages

Mediators in peace talks between South Sudan's government and rebels have said both sides' failure to reach a deal is morally and politically "unacceptable".

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the chair of a regional body overseeing the talks, said South Sudan's leaders had failed its people.

Their inaction, he said, would prolong suffering and a senseless war.

The 14-month conflict in South Sudan has displaced more than a million people and killed tens of thousands.

The government, led by President Salva Kiir, and the rebels, led by Riek Machar, missed Thursday's deadline for reaching a deal in talks in Ethiopia, overseen by the East African regional body, Igad.

Further talks on Friday also ended without agreement.

Image copyright AFP

Analysis: James Copnall, South Sudan expert

Prime Minister Hailemariam's statement - which is unusually direct by diplomatic standards - reveals the international frustration with South Sudan's leaders.

He says the regional body Igad and others should now come up with a "comprehensive solution" to South Sudan's crisis, one which presumably will take a different form to the deal on the table which Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have been unable to agree on.

How can the outside world impose this, though? Will sanctions - which many in South Sudan reject - be imposed? And how can outsiders make peace if South Sudan's own leaders are not ready to do so?

Meanwhile, an African Union report into alleged human rights abuses in South Sudan recommended that Mr Kiir and Mr Machar be barred from any transitional government, according to a leaked draft from October seen by Reuters news agency.

The final report was meant to have been published in January, but AU heads of state postponed the publication to avoid obstructing peace talks.

Sanctions threat

Mr Hailemariam, the Igad chairman, said he regretted that "the talks did not produce the necessary breakthrough".

In an open letter addressed to the people of South Sudan, he attacked leaders on both sides for sticking to entrenched positions.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sudanese government soldiers have been battling rebels for control of oil-rich districts
Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than a million people have been displaced by the fighting

"The consequences of inaction are the continued suffering of you, the people of South Sudan, and the prolonging of a senseless war in your country. This is unacceptable, both morally and politically," he said.

"Continuing a war flagrantly disregards the interests of you, the people. It is an abdication of the most sacred duty leaders have to you, their people: to deliver peace, prosperity and stability."

The statement said mediators were hopeful that the "promise of peace will be fulfilled in the near future" - but did not say whether further talks were planned.

Leaders at war

Image copyright AFP
  • Former rebel leader Salva Kiir (above left) became president of South Sudan, the world's newest state, when it gained independence in 2011
  • He sacked his deputy, Riek Machar (above right), in 2013, and then accused him of planning a coup
  • Mr Machar denied the charge, accused Mr Kiir of failing to tackle corruption, and raised a rebel force to fight government troops
  • Power struggle between the two men spilled into clashes along ethnic lines between Mr Machar's Nuer group and Mr Kiir's fellow Dinka
  • Peace talks have stalled on the issue of power-sharing in government. Both sides are also keen to control oilfields in the resource-rich nation
  • However their struggle has stalled development and left some of the world's poorest people even poorer - and at risk of hunger

Mr Hailemariam's statement also suggested that the peace process itself may need to be "reinvigorated and reformed".

Igad, he said, would use "all influence" at its disposal "to convince those that remain intransigent" - an apparent reference to imposing sanctions on the leadership on both sides.

The UN last week announced the creation of a system that would allow sanctions to be imposed on those who obstruct the peace process - but did not mention anyone by name.

The UN has already imposed some limited sanctions and the US has warned both sides of further steps - including an arms embargo - if no deal is reached.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in December 2013. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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