ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – South Sudanese rebels accused the government army of attacking one of their bases overnight as a new round of peace talks between the warring sides opened in the Ethiopian capital on Monday.
Rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said government troops attacked a rebel base in the town of Lasu in the south of the country late on Sunday.
“They are in the IO base,” he said, referring to the name of the rebel group. Army spokesmen were not immediately available to comment when called by Reuters on Monday afternoon.
Earlier on Monday, army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said four aid workers from the French organization Solidarites International had been kidnapped a day earlier by rebels near the western city of Raja. The organization said on Monday it had lost contact with three members of its team on Saturday.
The talks in Addis Ababa have been convened by the East African bloc IGAD and are aimed at bringing the warring sides back to the negotiating table after a 2015 peace deal collapsed last year during heavy fighting in the capital, Juba.
The war began in 2013 between soldiers of President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have died and about one-third of South Sudan’s 12 million population have fled their homes.
It has mutated from a two-way fight into a fragmented conflict, making peace more elusive, the top United Nations peace-keeper in the country told Reuters earlier this year.
Diplomats and analysts question whether the will to end the fighting exists, as Kiir’s government holds the military upper hand and rebel leader Machar is under house arrest in South Africa. [L3N1NG5D4] Machar sent representatives to the Ethiopian capital for the talks.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn voiced strong criticism of the warring sides at the opening of Monday’s forum in Addis Ababa.
“…More than half of the people of South Sudan are either refugees in neighboring countries, internally displaced within South Sudan or suffering from food insecurity in their own village,” he said.
“It is equally clear that all this suffering is taking place because you the leaders of South Sudan have repeatedly failed to talk to each other, to negotiate, to be tolerant, to make compromises,” he added. “Today, I appeal to you to stop this intransigence.”
There were no immediate statements from representatives for Kiir and Machar, or from the 20 other parties IGAD has included in the new round of talks.
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Additional reporting by Jason Patinkin in Kampala and Denis Dumo in Juba; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by William Maclean