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ROME - 7 Feb 2024

Q&A: ‘We will cooperate if invited to participate in the Kenyan-led peace talks’-Community Sant’Egidio

Community of Sant'Egidio Secretary-General Impagliazzo Paolo. (File photo)
Community of Sant'Egidio Secretary-General Impagliazzo Paolo. (File photo)

The Government of South Sudan and the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSOG) which brings together opposition parties that declined to be part of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement failed to proceed with the Community Sant’Egidio mediated Rome Peace Talks.

Last December, President Salva Kiir wrote to his Kenyan counterpart, Samuel Ruto, requesting the latter to mediate talks between the government and the NSSOG made up of the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Gen. Thomas Cirillo, Real SPLM led by former SPLM Party Secretary-General Pagan Amum, South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A) of former Army Chief Gen. Paul Malong, the National Democratic Movement-Patriotic Front (NDM-PF) of Amb. Emmanuel Ajawin and the South Sudan National Movement for Change/Army (SSNMC/A).

Radio Tamazuj interviewed Impagliazzo Paolo, the Secretary-General of the Community of Sant'Egidio, on Tuesday and he said he believes President Kiir requested the talks be moved to Kenya because they have dragged in for too long and also to expedite them because of the elections scheduled for December 2024.

He says the Community Sant’Egidio will participate in the talks in Kenya if invited and that they will cooperate by giving background, among other things.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: Have you received a letter about the relocation of the Rome Talks to Kenya or an invitation to participate in the new peace initiative between the Government of South Sudan and holdout groups to be mediated by Kenyan President William Ruto?

A: Yes we received a letter from South Sudan Minister of Presidential Affairs Joseph Bakosoro through Foreign Minister James Pitia who was in Rome to participate in the two-day Italy-Africa Summit. He came to Sant’Egidio and delivered the letter on 29 January.

Q: Did the Government of South Sudan explain to you why they want the talks moved to Kenya?

A: It is a decision by the government in Juba and we fully respect their decision. We are aware that the process is slow and I believe that moving the talks to Kenya is because the election is approaching. So, the government decided to ask President Ruto to expedite the process, this is the reason.

Q: You met President Ruto when he was in Italy recently. What did you discuss regarding the relocation of the talks to Kenya?

A: President Ruto was in Italy for this Italy-Africa Summit and we as the Community Sant’Egidio were honored by his visit. We discussed many things and among them was the resumption of the peace talks and how to cooperate.  If we can cooperate with the Government of Kenya, we will do so.

It was the first meeting and I believe that the Rome Initiative can continue with this cooperation to share some ideas on what we achieved. We will also go into the details of the Rome Initiative for them (Kenya) to continue with what we have done and for us to support their role.

Q: Does this mean the Government of Kenya has now taken over the peace talks?

A: The decision was made by the Government of South Sudan and of course, the dialogue must continue, that is the most important thing.

According to what we got from President Ruto, there is nothing against our continued participation in the peace talks as the Community of Sant’ Egidio. Of course, the process will be chaired by President Ruto and the political dialogue will be chaired by the Kenyan government and particularly by President Ruto.

Q: Will you be part of the talks in Kenya?

A: Yes! We have to understand in which way we are ready and if we are asked to be part of the process, of course, we have to continue and be in place.

Q: When are you scheduled to Meet Ruto again?

A: We still do not know, but I believe that someone in charge from the Kenyan government will be appointed to lead the process. It will not be the president himself but maybe some other representative of the government.  We did not receive any other information so we have to wait.

Q: Do you have a message for the people, holdout groups, and the Government of South Sudan as the elections approach? 

A: The message is still the same; to focus on the overall situation in the country and to work together to alleviate the poor condition of some of the people of South Sudan. We always ask for both parties to work together to find a way to build trust among them. That is what we suggest and strongly recommend.

They should also continue this political dialogue because it is the only way to solve the controversies.

Dr. John Garang visited the Community Sant’Egidio in 1994, so many years ago before the independence of South Sudan, and we have been on the side of the people of South Sudan, we are close to them and the main purpose of our initiative was to establish and to help the country and that is all. We are at the service of the people of South Sudan.