Govt: We’re ready for Rome talks, but…

Govt: We’re ready for Rome talks, but…
Presidential Affairs Minister Dr Barnabas Marial Benjamin (photo credit: courtesy)

The ghost of the struggling peace talks between the government and the holdout groups has resurfaced with the presidency laying tough preconditions to return to the negotiating table. 

According to President Salva Kiir-led administration, the government will only return to the negotiating table with the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA) if the mediator will respond to questions it asked as preconditions for the resumption of Rome peace talks.

Presidential Affairs Minister Dr Barnabas Marial Benjamin was categorical that until SSOMA provides a convincing reason for violating the ceasefire agreement, the talks would not resume.

He made the statement during a program aired by the UN-owned Radio Miraya on Thursday.

Not moved

“There are reasons which ceased the talks [and] until answers are found to those reasons then the issue of halting the talks is not the problem, the problem is, give answers to why [you] violated the ceasefire we have agreed.

“If we get the answers that are convincing to the people of South Sudan, and the government; then definitely the talks will continue because what we want and what the government wants is peace,” Dr Marial said.

The negotiation plunged into a state of deadlock in August 2021 when President Salva Kiir suspended talks with SSOMA citing a lack of respect to the 2017 cessation of hostility agreement and Rome Declaration of Principle by SSOMA. The most blamed SSOMA faction was the National Salvation Front (NAS) of Gen. Thomas Cirilo.

Kiir’s decision came after the brutal killings of two Catholic nuns and other three travellers who were ambushed along Juba-Nimule road when they were returning to Juba from a pilgrimage in the Loa parish 

Kiir accused National Salvation Front of being behind the attack and said SSOMA was taking advantage of ‘‘the government’s desire for the inclusive peace process to respect the agreement as a weakness’’ to attack and kill innocent citizens along major roads in the country.

He promised that talks with SSOMA would only resume if they ceased all forms of hostility, including road ambushes, attacks on civilians and humanitarian convoys as well as killings of innocent people.

With both sides pointing fingers at one another over the baffling highway attacks, the Secretary-General of Community of Saint’Egidio, Paolo Impagliazzo was forced to intervene and resuscitate the negotiations. He held talks with President Salva Kiir in Juba on October 9 to explore ways that parties could return to the negotiating table following months of suspension.

“We have discussed the way forward to the Rome initiative because there are some difficulties, but we discussed the possibilities of how to overcome those difficulties. We will now start discussing the possibility to resume the talks with SSOMA,” said Implagliazzo.

More attacks

In recent weeks, there have been reported attacks in parts of Central and Western Equatoria where the South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF) has blamed NAS for orchestration, including ambushing UN agencies and army barracks.

“This talk was stopped by the action of SSOMA, and some reasons stop it; what is the cause of violating the agreement we have signed the Rome Resolution? Until they tell us and the rest of South Sudanese why they are killing the innocents, stop them on the roads, ambushes; for what? Unless this thing is explained in a good way I think the mediator will let us know.” Dr Marial said. 

However, SSOMA has on several occasions denied allegations terming them false accusations by the government as an excuse to reject the inclusive peace process which addresses the root causes of the problem in the country. 

Last month, activists and religious leaders criticised the government for suspending the negotiations and called on the president to reconsider his decision.

In September, the Executive Director for Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) David Jame Kolok warned that the move would jeopardise the necessity of inclusion and present a blow to the peace quest.

“So we thought this would have been an opportunity in which any decision that is made must be comprehensively undertaken to be able to ensure that we don’t necessarily create a situation where some people will feel that they are left out and they will continue to violate human rights,” Kolok said.

“Our advice is that the president needs to reconsider…I think these are some of the issues that can still be addressed within the contest of the dialogue and the discussion at the Sant Egidio,” urged Kolok.

He added, “Putting the peace talks on halt will allow the holdout groups to decide otherwise [and] this may not be necessarily good for the entire peace process and it will not be good for the safety of civilians on this [Juba – Nimule] road as well as other towns.”