Holdout groups split on Kenya as next venue for “Rome talks”

Holdout groups split on Kenya as next venue for “Rome talks”

The members of the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSOG) are divided over the transfer of the venue of the peace talks with the South Sudan government from Rome to Kenya.

Just a few days after Kenyan President William Ruto accepted President Salva Kiir’s request to chair the dragging Rome talks, the NSSOG members are yet to fully embrace the idea with a sizeable majority opposing the new venue.

In an exclusive interview with The City Review, Amb. Emmanuel Ajawin, the Chairman of the National Democratic Movement Patriotic Front (NDM-PF) and the coordinator of NSSOG, revealed that the group failed to reach an agreement over the proposed new venue.

He added that the group convened a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the matter but could not agree on one point regarding the venue.

“The NSSOG leaders met on the 24th to discuss their response to the letter. Although we wanted the leaders to have the same position, that will not be the case. Some of the leaders I think two out of five don’t have a problem with the venue and actually accepted the Kenyan mediation,” Ajawin said.

He said the majority of the group members suggested the need to have a conducive place, and they suggested Rome for the first sittings.

“The majority (NSSOG members) felt that since it is a pre-negotiation consultation and there are a lot of issues that need to be discussed, the first meeting should be held in Rome,” he said.

Amb. Ajawin said that the progress of the talks, whether to have fresh breath or remain like Rome talks, would depend on mediators.

“As to what will make talks different from the previous ones (Rome talks), this is among the issues we want to hear answers to from the mediators. So the pre-negotiations consultancy will clarify,” he added.

However, he insisted on the need for a roundtable discussion, arguing that neither the election nor the extension of the government are accepted.

“There is no conducive atmosphere for elections, nor is extension of government acceptable. Hence, we in the NCF have proposed a round table conference that will be inclusive,” he said.

He added that South Sudan needs a comprehensive peace that is inclusive and addresses the root causes of conflict.

The NSSOG comprises the National Salvation Front led by Gen Thomas Cirilo Swaka, the South Sudan United Front led by General Paul Malong Awan, and the Real Sudan People’s Liberation Movement led by Pagan Amum National Democratic Movement Patriotic Front (NDM-PF) led by Ambassador Emmanuel Ajawin, among others.

Ruto accepts

Last week, Kenya President William Ruto showed a strong desire to help drive negotiations between the government and armed groups which were initially left out of the 2018 peace deal.

Ruto said President Kiir reached out to him on December 25, 2023, on the phone with a plea for him to steer and conclude the remaining phase of the talks that went unfinished from the Rome talks.

South Sudan government claimed that the talks in Rome, Italy, under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio were taking a long time to bear fruit.

Meanwhile in an interview with The City Review Garang Malual, spokesperson for the South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A), stated that his boss, Paul Malong Awan, welcomed the role of President Ruto and Nairobi as the venue for talks.

“My only Message to our people this time let hope for the best, peace will prevail in the country,” he said.  

The Non-Signatory Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSOG) and the government disagreed on the agenda of the peace talks in March 2023, where holdout opposition groups demanded a roundtable discussion, but the government’s call for the group’s incorporation into the government has caused confusion until now.

Negotiations between both sides began in 2019 but have failed to end violence in some parts of the country, despite a ceasefire signed in January 2020.