South Sudan pulls out of peace talks with rebel groups

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South Sudan’s government has withdrawn from peace negotiations with rebel groups, accusing them of using the talks “to buy time as they prepare for war,” according to a letter seen by AFP Friday.

The talks between the government and a coalition of rebel groups, which did not sign a 2018 peace agreement that ended a five-year civil war, were brokered in Rome by a Catholic association with ties to the Vatican.

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Negotiations began in 2019 but have failed to curb violence in the south of the country, despite a ceasefire signed in January 2020.

In a letter dated November 21 and addressed to the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, Presidential Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the government “has suspended its participation in the Rome Peace talks till further notice.”

“While we have been preparing to engage in serious dialogue with Non-Signatory South Sudan Opposition Group to bring lasting peace to our country, it has come to our attention that this group is using these talks to buy time as they prepare for war,” Benjamin said.

The government had previously pulled out of talks last year, accusing one of the groups, the National Salvation Front (NAS), of carrying out indiscriminate attacks in the south of the country. But in August it said it was ready to resume discussions.

The rebel coalition in October announced it was changing its name from the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOMA) to the Non-signatories.

The world’s newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since winning independence from Sudan in 2011, including a civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.

Since the peace deal between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, the country has endured natural disasters and an economic crisis, with political infighting fueling further violence and obstructing progress on the terms of the agreement.

Earlier this month, the United Nations warned that almost eight million people or two-thirds of the country’s population were at risk of severe hunger due to extreme weather conditions, including widespread flooding.

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