By Philip Aleu
South Sudanese civil society groups called on the government and opposition Wednesday to engage in meaningful talks to bring peace to South Sudan after the government failed to show up for the negotiations for a sixth day.
"Let them think about the children suffering now in IDP camps, how women are suffering, giving birth to babies in places that are not really healthy for babies," said Angelina Daniel, a member of the End Impunity Organization (EIO) that is calling on both sides to return to the negotiating table.
The government delegation has not shown up for peace talks in Addis Ababa, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), since last week.
The government said they want the opposition to agree to a matrix outlining how the cessation of hostilities agreement is implemented before it joins the latest session of peace talks. The cessation of hostilities agreement was signed by both parties in January but has been repeatedly violated since then.
When the conflict began in December, the government insisted it would not take part in negotiations if the opposition set pre-conditions for the talks.
Before the January talks got under way, the opposition demanded the release of 11 high-ranking politicians who were detained when fighting broke out in Juba on Dec. 15. The opposition has since then made other demands, including the withdrawal of Ugandan troops who are fighting alongside government forces in South Sudan.
Both sides have repeatedly accused each other of violating the January cessation of hostilities agreement and stalling the peace process.
Boycott delays peace process
Daniel said boycotting the peace talks and insisting that the other side should sign yet another paper was an unnecessary waste of time and was delaying the peace process.
"We don't need papers to sign, we need something to be done on the ground," she said.
"We say please, please, our government, feel our pain. Hear our voices... our brothers, sisters and dear sons and daughters are suffering," she said.
The priority of all participants at the talks in Addis Ababa, said Daniel, should be to try to avoid famine in South Sudan and to improve the dire conditions in which hundreds of thousands of displaced persons are living.
Frustrated by slow-moving talks
Catherine Pita, a member of the South Sudan's Women's Platform for Peace, said she was hopeful when the current fifth round of much-delayed peace talks got under way two weeks ago, but her hope turned to disbelief and frustration as the government refuses to take part.
"I think it is a very outrageous thing to hear that the peace talks are not going on in Addis," Pita said, "because we know very well how much (suffering) this conflict has already caused in the country.
"We hope and we are praying that the stakeholders go back to the table to dialogue for peace."
Pita recalled that President Salva Kiir promised on his return from the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington this month that his government will restore peace to South Sudan.
"I am just asking the government to consider the promise they have given to South Sudanese so that they go back to the table and discuss this peace," she said.
"I am urging our government and the opposition and all the stakeholders -- the U.N., IGAD -- to do all that is in their power, to sit down and make sure that peace comes to South Sudan," for the good of the South Sudanese people, she said.
Some four million South Sudanese are food insecure because of the eight-month conflict, and around 1.5 million have been forced from their homes by the fighting. U.N. agencies have warned that famine could hit the country unless the unrest stops soon.
Credit: Voice of Africa