South Sudan president confirms insult is reason for delay of peace talks
The president of South Sudan ordered his negotiating team at peace talks in Addis Ababa to suspend their involvement in the talks because he felt offended by a remark made by one of the IGAD mediators, according to a speech made by the president on Thursday.
South Sudan’s foreign minister already confirmed that the president had demanded an apology for the insult. But yesterday’s speech was the first time that the president himself disclosed that the insult was the reason for the government’s suspension of its involvement in peace talks.
At issue is a remark made by Mahboub Maalim, the executive secretary of IGAD, which appeared in an article by the AFP news agency dated 10 June. The article referred to the South Sudanese president and his rival Riek Machar as ‘warmongers’.
Maalim was quoted as saying, “Nobody else is to blame [for the conflict] other than the parties themselves. If we want to apportion blame it's theirs, I think sometimes they thought they could win on the ground militarily, something which is very stupid.”
The article by the news agency was apparently printed in an English-language paper in Addis Ababa on the day that Kiir was leaving the city after a summit meeting with other African leaders and his rival, Riek Machar.
Kiir, recounting the matter, said that he was in Ethiopia headed to the airport to go back to Juba when he read the article, after which he gave it to the government team in Addis Ababa for launching a complaint.
“What happened is that the man made his comments in the newspaper called, ‘Daily Monitor’ of Ethiopia. And he said that, ‘President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are both stupid, and they think that they will bring peace through military victory on the ground.”
Because of this the government boycotted the opening of the latest round of peace talks, according to the president.
“The government negotiation team has been forced to suspend the peace talks in demand for an explanation from IGAD of a press statement issued by one of its executive secretary, in which I, president of an IGAD member state, was described as stupid.”
He noted that he has written a complaint to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and also given the Minister of Foreign Affairs the authority to follow up on the matter.
In his speech to the lawmakers in Juba Thursday, Kiir further said the government delegation will not return to the talks until he gets an apology from IGAD Chair, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.
Machar wants talks to continue
The leader of SPLM-in-Opposition, Riek Machar, who was also labeled as ‘stupid’ by the mediator, reacted saying it was an unfortunate remark but it should not delay the peace talks.
Speaking by phone to Voice of America in Washington, he also noted, “I've not been known for being stupid.”
“That reference was very unfortunate and I would have thought Mahboub would apologize and we would continue with the peace process.”
He stressed that the opposition wants the talks to move forward.
For their part, South Sudanese readers of this website offered mixed reactions. One commented, “The IGAD official should apologize to President Kiir for that remark. The word stupid shouldn't be use simply.”
Another readers said, “We know that Kiir was not the only one labeled as stupid but his archrival Dr. Machar who has just swallowed his share of the insult just because he knows leaders killing their civilians can be called by any bad name by the rest of other nations.”
Yet another reader remarked, “I myself personal see there is no reason for IGAD officials to apologize to the president because what was happening [in South Sudan] is really very bad and even none of them cares. Therefore IGAD as an organization has the right to say whatsoever to bring peace back to the country. Let them not take this as an excuse while people are dying on a daily basis.”
“The IGAD cannot apologize only to Salva Kiir alone, but they can apologize to all two people which is him and opposition. And even IGAD are not wrong to abuse Salva Kiir and Riek Machar as stupid – it is because of hooliganism, fighting without proper reason,” said another citizen.