South Sudan envoy in ‘significant’ talks with Eritrean president

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South Sudan dispatched a high-level envoy for talks with Eritrea’s president Saturday in spite of recommitting Friday to the IGAD mediation process led by Ethiopia.

Chief Negotiator Nhial Deng Nhial and a delegation of other South Sudanese officials were received at the Eritrean State House on Saturday by President Isaias Afwerki. The negotiator was quoted as saying that the meeting with Afwerki was “very significant.”

South Sudan has participated since early 2014 in a mediation process led by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc chaired by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Eritrea’s membership in IGAD was suspended in 2007.

The IGAD regional bloc has threatened sanctions against South Sudanese leaders if they obstruct the peace process, but South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has shrugged off threats of sanctions saying, “I cannot be threatened with that talk.”

Kiir, who is now visiting Turkey, has also blamed IGAD leaders for being too lenient with the South Sudanese rebels, saying that IGAD “tied his hands” by forcing him to comply with a ceasefire. He has vowed to crush the rebellion militarily. “I will strike them and pursue them into their areas. And we will not stop,” he said last month.

Kiir’s envoy to Eritrea, Nhial Deng, discussed with the Eritrean president on Saturday bilateral relations as well as the peace process, according to the Eritrean Ministry of Information.

Eritrean state news media quoted him as saying afterwards that the discussion with Afwerki was “very significant.” Nhial explained that the IGAD peace process “did not so far produce concrete outcome.”

“The South Sudan official further indicated that he had given detailed briefing to President Isaias on the peace process and the problems encountered. He also disclosed that the delegation has received vital advice from the President,” the Ministry reported.

Eritrea’s Information Ministry added, “Mr. Nial Deng Nial elaborated that President Isaias has underlined that in order for the peace process to succeed, the two parties need to discuss the South Sudan problem in earnest free from external interference.”

“In this connection, Mr. Nial Deng Nial stated that the President cautioned against internationalizing the South Sudan issue which would but further complicate it.” Eritrean state media also reported that the Eritrean president is keen to improve relations with South Sudan’s government.

No date for IGAD restart

The IGAD Special Envoy and Chief Mediator Seyoum Mesfin meanwhile has said that the regional bloc has not yet set a date for resumption of the negotiations between South Sudan and the SPLA-IO rebels, which were suspended more than a month ago owing to lack of progress.

Mesfin, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, said consultations are ongoing to expand the mediation team to include not only IGAD countries but also the Troika countries of the United States, Norway and United Kingdom.

The Political Bureau of South Sudan’s ruling party SPLM announced on Friday that the country will be willing to accept Troika involvement in the negotiations. The decision reverses the position announced by the government spokesman Michael Makuei who rejected the Troika’s involvement.

“Troika are not Africans. We are in search of an African solution,” the government spokesman had said on 12 March in an interview with Radio Tamazuj.

In spite of this, the South Sudanese government never formally protested the plans to involve the Troika, according to Seyoum Mesfin. The Ethiopian diplomat told the UN radio service Radio Miraya in a recent interview, “There is no IGAD member who has come openly to oppose this IGAD-plus framework.”

Nonetheless, he declined to specify a date for resumption of the negotiations, saying diplomatic consultations are still ongoing. “I cannot give you the exact date, but definitely when we finalize the necessary consultations between the various actors now, we will set the exact date,” he said in the same interview.

He further called on South Sudan’s warring parties to stop blaming each other and reach a solution: “The crisis in South Sudan is a crisis created by the political leaders and the solution comes from the political leaders and the people of South Sudan. So the blame game must stop.”

Photo credit: Ministry of Information, State of Eritrea

Radio Tamazuj

April 26, 2015

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