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ADDIS ABABA - 4 Apr 2014

Ethiopian premier seeking to break deadlock in South Sudan peace talks

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to meet with South Sudanese negotiators from both sides to the conflict tomorrow in Addis Ababa, in an effort to put the talks back on track.

This comes after the parties failed to sign a Declaration of Principles and agenda for the negotiations owing to differences of view on the involvement of the SPLM-G7, a third bloc of former ministers opposing the South Sudanese government.

SPLM-G7, a group of seven former political prisoners, were released in late January on the demand of the regional body IGAD, which is mediating the talks. At a summit of the IGAD Heads of State, the regional body further demanded that the group be included in the peace negotiations hosted in Addis Ababa.

Hailemariam chairs the East African regional organization IGAD, and his country shares a border several hundred kilometers long with the opposition-held territories of South Sudan. 

Earlier this week the country’s former foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, who is chief mediator for IGAD, held a meeting with the South Sudanese negotiators in which he reportedly told them they would not proceed to signing of the agenda and declaration of principles unless the SPLM-G7 were included.

The South Sudanese government refused this request.

Though this resulted in suspension of the negotiations, the Ethiopian leader asked the two delegations of negotiators to remain in Addis Ababa until after meeting him, upon his return from Brussels.

Hailemariam was taking part this week at the European Union-Africa summit in Brussels, which was attended by a number of African leaders as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.

According to Yohannes Musa, the deputy spokesman of the SPLM/A-in-Opposition delegation, the parties expect to meet with the Ethiopian leader tomorrow. He will aim for a breakthrough to take the talks beyond the current impasse.

“Tomorrow there should be meetings, if he returns, separately with us and with them,” said Musa.

He added that his side has no problem with engaging with SPLM-G7 in the negotiations, but he expects it will be difficult for the Ethiopian leader to persuade the South Sudanese government delegation to accept to deal with SPLM-G7.

Musa also denied that the talks had been suspended until the end of April. This had been reported by another negotiator earlier this week.

South Sudan’s information minister, Micheal Makuei Lueth, also emphasized that the talks have not been suspended until late April.

He told Bakhita FM in Juba on Thursday that they would continue with the negotiations from Saturday. But he added the group of seven should not participate in the peace talks, but should return to the party where their problems could be resolved.