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ROME - 24 Mar 2023

Pope Francis pleads for peace as he meets South Sudan parties

Pope Francis called for peace on Friday as he met delegations of the South Sudan government and the hold-out opposition group, after the mediation adjourned the peace talks in Rome, Italy.

On Thursday, the Rome-based lay Catholic association, Sant’Egidio, adjourned the peace talks between the transitional government and the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSSOG) after they disagreed on the agenda of the peace talks.

The new round of talks started on Wednesday.

"Pope Francis met the delegations and appreciated the peace talks. He was aware of the outcome of the meeting because we submitted the report to the Secretary of the Holy See, which we discussed in detail. He prayed for peace in South Sudan," Paolo Impagliazzo, the secretary-general of the Community of Sant'Egidio, told Radio Tamazuj on Friday morning.

When asked why the peace talks were adjourned, Paolo said: "We had a chance to discuss with the parties the way forward for the Rome initiative, which means what to do after so many months of silence and after the interruption of the political dialogue. The two delegations proposed two different ways of the way forward."

“So after discussing the two options, the delegations asked to go back and consult. They agreed to submit written proposals about the way forward and how to continue with the dialogue," he added.

According to the mediator, the two delegations decided to meet again on 8 May in Rome after submitting their written proposals on the way forward.

“It was already an achievement to have all of them together. Cirillo joined Paul Malong and Pagan Amum. On the other side, there was the government delegation led by Dr. Barnaba Marial. The meeting was very good, and no rejection of anything. The mood was also good, and the delegates were open to discuss almost everything,” he said.

“We also had representatives of the international community, special envoys who participated in this round of talks. An envoy from the Holy See was with us, and the delegations were received by Pope Francis,” he added.

Paolo urged both sides to continue with dialogue. He also expressed hope that with the blessings of Pope Francis, the political talks will continue between the parties.

Meanwhile, Information Minister and Government Spokesman Michael Makuei said the government delegation objected to a proposal presented by the holdout opposition group to conduct a roundtable conference to discuss the transitional government’s term in office.

“Yesterday (Thursday), they sat and have not managed to meet up to now. They have disagreed on the agenda. The holdout group has the opinion that they cannot continue unless people agree on the agenda, and their agenda is that we should have a roundtable conference,” Makuei said.

“The holdout group doesn’t recognize the roadmap. They say your period has finished in the agreement, and what you have now is the roadmap, and this roadmap we don’t recognize it, so we should sit down so that we agree on new terms of how best we can manage South Sudan up to the time when we go for elections. We are saying no; we are not ready for any further negotiations on the period; this roadmap is what will take us to elections,” he added.

For his part, Emmanuel Ajawin, a leading member of the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSSOG), confirmed that both sides differed over the agenda of the new round of talks.

 “The mediators presented an agenda which is about the way forward to the Rome initiative. Also, the government side presented a proposal and said important issues on the economy, governance and transitional justice should be discussed. On our side, we proposed a roundtable conference as our agenda,” Ajawin said.

“After we explained our proposal, the government objected to our proposal, and they said they were not mandated to discuss anything to do with the roundtable conference. So the mediators decided to adjourn the talks on Thursday so that the parties can have enough time and present written positions on the different agendas, and on 8 May, we will go back to resume the talks,” he added.

Ajawin reiterated their commitment to the peace process facilitated by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

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.