S.Sudan government suspends peace talks after rebel split

South Sudan battle ragesSouth Sudan’s government said Friday it was pulling out of peace talks to end a 20-month long civil war after rebel forces split despite international threats of sanctions.

“We suspend the peace talks until the two rebel factions sort out their differences,” top government official Louis Lobong said, after meetings with President Salva Kiir.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a war marked by widespread atrocities on both sides.

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

Regional mediators, backed by US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Ethiopia, gave Kiir and Machar until August 17 to halt the civil war.

On Tuesday however, top rebel generals said they had split from Machar, accusing him of seeking power for himself, and adding they would not recognise any deal agreed.

Obama has warned Kiir and Machar that if they failed to strike a deal the US will “move forward with a different plan, and recognize that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required.”

Possible punitive measures could include an arms embargo and targeted sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes.

But Lobong, governor of Eastern Equatoria, one the country’s 10 states, dismissed the threat of sanctions.

“In peace talks, you don’t give condition, you don’t give intimidation,” he told reporters, warning to do so would lead to “an agreement that will not last.”

During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopia hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.

At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.

“Bringing about peace is a process, requires time and is expensive – and it is better to go slowly but surely, rather than rush and sign a peace that will create problems,” Lobong added.

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