By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 6, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Leaders from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are due to meet soon in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to decide on what specific measures should be taken against South Sudan’s rival factions.
IGAD leaders held a consultative meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the current situation in South Sudan.
The meeting, which was held on the side lines of the US-African leaders’ summit in Washington, was attended by the presidents of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.
IGAD, the regional bloc mediating the two warring parties, has given both factions a 10 August deadline to agree on a transitional government and implement ceasefire agreements.
The South Sudanese government and rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar have been engaged in an armed struggle since mid-December last year when a political split in the ruling SPLM turned violent.
The fifth round of peace talks got underway in Addis Ababa on Monday in a bid to end the almost eight-month-long conflict in the world’s youngest nation.
However, Machar’s SPLM in Opposition failed to show up at the talks, instead demanding direct negotiations with the government.
The rebel faction has called for peace talks to be restricted to the two parties directly involved, saying other stakeholders, including former political detainees, civil society organisations and faith-based groups should only participate in a consultative manner.
During the meeting with Kerry, IGAD chairperson and Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that there was unanimous agreement among regional mediators that the war in South Sudan “must end and must end now”.
He further warned the region would take strong and punitive action immediately after convening the next meeting of IGAD heads of state and government, due to be held in Addis Ababa soon.
Desalegn has accused rebel forces of violating the ceasefire agreement signed by both sides in January and recommitted to in May.
At the opening of talks on Monday, the head of South Sudan’s government delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, also accused rebels of launching fresh attacks.
“Riek Machar and the SPLM/A in Opposition should not waste any more time over military campaigns,” said Nhial.
He called upon the IGAD to take punitive measures against the side which violates the cessation of hostilities agreement.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Kerry said the United States was fully supportive of the IGAD-led proposal aimed at ending the crisis.
He also pledged his government’s strong commitment to averting further human suffering, saying “the threat of starvation for 50,000 children, the continued threat to life, the tribal series of attacks on both sides, were all simply unacceptable”.
Kerry said United Nations Security Council (UNSC) would send a delegation to South Sudan next week to “underline that there is no other alternative than the IGAD plan that is now on the table”.
He also lauded IGAD’s initiative to find an African solution to the political crisis in South Sudan.
Since the conflict in South Sudan erupted in December last year, tens of thousands of people have been killed, while more than 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.
International aid organisations have described the humanitarian situation in South Sudan as one of the worst on a global scale, warning of an imminent outbreak of famine if fighting continues.