South Sudanese government officials and rebel leaders met in the Ethiopian capital on Tuesday to begin brokering a deal aimed at ending three weeks of fighting in South Sudan, which has killed at least 1,000 people and displaced another 200,000.
The talks were supposed to begin in Addis Ababa a few days ago but they were held up by the demands of rebel groups that 11 captured leaders be freed. Michael Makuei Lueth of the South Sudanese Information Ministry said such demands could not condition the talks.
“We came here to talk peace without conditions. And to come and tell us that ‘Release these people,’ so that they talk is a condition, and we are not ready to accept any pre-conditions,” he said.
However, the east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development sent envoys to South Sudan on Tuesday to urge President Salva Kiir to release the detainees.
The start of the peace talks follows a weekend of heavy fighting in Bor, between government forces and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
The UN continues to protect about 9,000 civilians in its compound in Bor, while other compounds continue to welcome an increasing number of civilians, and Farhan Haq, acting deputy spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
The re-supply of the Bor base is becoming a “critical issue,” he said. “The mission has called on the government and anti-government forces to cooperate to allow re-supply flights. Preparations are underway for the deployment of new troop battalions and additional police personnel in the coming days.”
Despite the talks, the UN says it expects the number of displaced people to increase in the next few weeks. The priority, it says, is health management, and the provision of shelter, water and food.