South Sudan is resurrecting its demand for any future peace talks to be transferred to Kenya from Ethiopia after mediators failed to convince warring parties to reach a deal last week.
The country’s deputy ambassador to Kenya, James P Morgan, told the Nation on Wednesday that both Ethiopia and Sudan are harming peace talks by “domineering.”
“The next round of peace talks should be out of Ethiopia and Sudan should be excluded from being a mediator, since it controls, trains and arms the rebels,” Mr Morgan said in an interview in Nairobi.
The demand that talks between Salva Kiir’s government and rebel leader Riek Machar should to be held on Kenyan soil is not new. But Juba now says that holding negotiations in Kenya will ensure talks occur under those it thinks understand South Sudan better.
“From the start, we have been saying these talks were not in the right place. It should have been in Kenya, where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed [in 2005],” he argued.
“Lt-Gen Lazarus Sumbeiywo oversaw those negotiations that led to the CPA. He understands South Sudan better. In the current mediation process (sic), he has a boss and he is not free. He cannot make decisions that will help South Sudan.”
South Sudan, seceded from Sudan in 2011 following a referendum that had been agreed upon in the CPA. Negotiations that led to the CPA were mediated by Kenya’s retired Lt-Gen Lazarus Sumbeiywo.
But the two countries retained old wounds, with Juba occasionally accusing Khartoum of sponsoring rebels.
In December 2013, Juba fell into chaos after rebels loyal to the former vice-president engineered a failed coup against President Salva Kiir. Soon, the war spread around the country. It is estimated that 50,000 people have been killed since.
Last week, negotiations aimed at reaching a long-term solution failed in Addis Ababa despite pressure from the UN to impose sanctions on South Sudan.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), a regional bloc, had appointed Ethiopia’s Seyoum Mesfin to mediate alongside Kenya’s Lazarus Sumbeiywo and Sudan’s Mohamed El Dabi.
South Sudan is a member of Igad alongside Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia and Eritrea.
Despite signing seven ceasefire agreements overseen by the bloc, none of them stood longer than two weeks before fighting resumed.
“It is not that we did not like to agree with the rebels. They kept changing goalposts. The international community was aware of everything from the start but they kept blaming both sides for violations,” Mr Morgan told the Nation.
“We blame rebel leaders who is a hostage of Khartoum and we believe the international community should focus on Khartoum rather than impose sanctions on us. That will be premature.”
After last week, Igad admitted its tactics had been wanting. The bloc’s chairman, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn wrote to South Sudanese people to acknowledge the group had used wrong methods to convince parties.
“Our efforts cannot continue unaltered and expect a different outcome; the peace process must be reinvigorated and reformed,” he conceded.
“In the coming days, I will consult with my colleagues, the Igad leaders, partners and friends in the region, on the continent, and beyond to agree a common plan of action.”
Igad had previously promised sanctions which it never implemented. Following last week talks, the UN adopted a resolution to impose those sanctions, which would require the support of Igad to succeed.
Juba’s resurrection of this demand may mean South Sudan is changing tack over its suspicion that Kenya was favouring the rebels in the talks.
Two weeks ago, President Kiir told The EastAfrican that Kenya would “mess up the region” if it continued accommodating rebels.
“We believe that President [Uhuru] Kenyatta should not bring himself to support Riek Machar, but of course he has been accommodating the former detainees and Riek Machar receives goodwill when he goes to Nairobi,” President Kiir said in an interview.