Sudan Tribune

(ADDIS ABABA) – Leaders of the South Sudan’s government and rival factions of the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) on Tuesday afternoon began face-to-face talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as deadline for peace set by regional mediators approaches to dead end.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (C), South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir (L) and South Sudan rebel chief Riek Machar (R) attend a meeting on March 3, 2015 in Addis Ababa (Photo AFP/Zacharias Abubeker)

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African regional bloc mediating the two conflicting parties, has given both sides until Thursday, 5 March, to reach a comprehensive peace agreement to end nearly 15-month long conflict in South Sudan.

South Sudan President, Salva Kiir and his former deputy and current rebel leader, Riek Machar, resumed the direct negotiations on Tuesday on the key contentious issues which had been slowing the peace process.

The two principals held the closed door meeting till late night hours discussing critical issues particularly on the structure of the transitional government, power sharing ratios, as well as on the composition of the national legislature and transitional security arrangements.

A rebel source close to the meeting told Sudan Tribune that the gap was still wide as president Kiir continued to reject adoption and implementation of federal system of governance and separation of the two rival armies or phased amalgamation during the transitional period, which he said were fundamental issues in the peace process.

After meeting Kiir and Machar earlier, Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam desalegn, urged the two leaders to expeditiously address the outstanding issues and take tough decisions to strike a final peace settlement to the crises.

“Very little time remains,” Desalegn said, urging both sides to take difficult compromises further noting them any more failure to reach a negotiated settlement would mean prolonging the crises against the wishes of the South Sudanese people.

While noting a resolution now being considered by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York, the Ethiopian premier who also chairs IGAD told Kiir and Machar to be courageous to swiftly make “compromises and alternatives rather than only reiterating old positions.”

“This is a sign of the frustration that the international community feels in relation to the parties in South Sudan, and their continued intransigence in resolving the crises.”

“The region is also frustrated. The solution is in your hands. Don’t throw it away any longer,” Desalegn further advised the two principals.

With deadline to reach final peace accord less than 48 hours away, and considering wide gaps remaining for both sides to agree, observers speaking to Sudan Tribune doubt a final agreement would be reached before the deadline on Thursday.

Also, considering previously failed deadlines and existing gaps on contentious issues observers suspect that the parties may instead ask IGAD to extend the 5 March deadline in which failure may lead to sanctions threatened by the IGAD, AU and the international community.

IGAD Chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, also urged the parties to in no time accelerate the final peace deal.

He also appealed on IGAD leaders, the UN, African Union and the international community at large to join the IGAD calls and exert pressure on the warring parties.