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South Sudan Suspends Peace Talks with Hold-Out Opposition Groups

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South Sudan's Presidential Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin

South Sudan’s government has suspended its participation in the Rome peace talks, accusing the hold-out opposition groups of lacking commitment.

South Sudan’s Presidential Affairs minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the decision was reached after taking into consideration several factors.

“While we have been preparing to engage in serious dialogue with the non-signatory South Sudan opposition groups to bring lasting peace to the people of South Sudan, it has come to our attention that this group is using these talks to buy time as they prepare for war,” he said in a letter to the Secretary General of the Sant Egidio community.

The November 21, 2022 letter preceded accusations by the holdout opposition groups that the government had deployed strategies to divide and weaken the opposition.

South Sudan United Front (SSUF), the group led by former chief of staff, Paul Malong Awan, said they had rebranded from South Sudan Opposition Alliance Movement (SSOMA) to National Non-signatory South Sudan Group. The new name was agreed upon in Rome, Italy following recent meetings with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the TROIKA (United States, United Kingdom and Norway).

The meeting, organized by the Sant Egidio community brought together key opposition figures, including Malong, Thomas Cirillo of the National Salvation Front (NAS) and Pagan Amum of the Real SPLM.

However, the Presidential Affairs minister described the meeting as the initiative of the mediation team to help the parties forge an understanding to peacefully come together and find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the country and not as a way to plan and organize how leaders of the group should unveil strategies to pursue military objectives.

“Since this development that used the Rome Initiative as a cover in preparation for war is diametrically opposed to our view, the government took the decision to prevent the mockery of the noble process,” said Marial.

The minister said the government remains fully committed to the Rome peace initiative.

He invited the Secretary General of Sant Egidio to visit Juba to discuss concerns raised.

The holdout groups, now operating under a new umbrella of non-signatory south Sudan group, are a collection of armed and non-political organizations which declined to sign the 2018 revitalized peace agreement, claiming it did not address specifically the root causes of the conflict in the country.

More than five armed and non-dissident groups such as the NAS, SSUF, the Real SPLM, South Sudan People’s Patriotic Movement, South Sudan United Front Progressive, SPLM-IO Kitgwang Simon Gatwech, and SPLM-IO Johnson Olony operate independently and despite the presence of UN peacekeeping troops, these groups continue to cause havoc in the communities and control weakly governed areas.

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