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Ex-South Sudan political detainees to join peace talks in Ethiopia

13 February 2014, 08:22

Nairobi - Seven South Sudan detainees released to Kenya in January are set to join the second round of negotiations on a comprehensive and political agreement between the warring parties.

The seven political leaders, including Rebecca Garang, widow of the late revered South Sudanese leader John Garang, met Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi on Wednesday to thank him for Kenya's generosity and interest in ensuring that peace and stability was restored to South Sudan.

"We cannot thank you enough for the role Kenya has played in ensuring that we can start on the path of peace and political settlement," Rebecca told President Kenyatta, according to statement issued after the meeting.

The political leaders flew to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday to join all-party talks aimed at resolving the political crisis in Africa's youngest nation. The talks resumed in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.

"It was important to put pressure as you did, that our brothers in South Sudan agree to a cessation of hostilities. Now they must work to ensure people in camps can be allowed to return home, and that the remaining political detainees are freed so they can play their rightful role in the search for a lasting settlement," Garang added.

The rebels have called for the release of the four remaining political detainees and the removal of Ugandan troops in South Sudan before the talks can begin. The rebels say that unless their demands are met, they will boycott the negotiations. The talks however resumed on Tuesday.

The two sides signed a ceasefire last month following peace talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), leading to a relative lull.

President Kenyatta, who chairs the East African Community (EAC), told the South Sudanese leaders that Kenya had vast interests in South Sudan, having been home to many of its northern neighbor's leaders. Kenya also had billions of dollars in investment tied up in South Sudan.

"It is in our interest that peace and stability is restored in your country and we will do everything we can to help on that agenda," Kenyatta said.

"We have no desire, no wish, other than peace, stability and prosperity for South Sudan," President Kenyatta said. "We will work with you. We will work to facilitate a return to normalcy."

The ceasefire which was inked in Addis Ababa last month seeks to ease a political dispute in the world's youngest nation between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, who was removed from office in July of 2013 and later accused of attempting a coup.

The tensions escalated on December 15, 2013 into a full-scale conflict between forces loyal to either side, driving over 870,000 people from their homes and leaving twice as many in dire need of aid.

A special summit of the IGAD meeting in Nairobi late December hammered out a formula for a return to peace, which then culminated into agreements for the cessation of hostilities and a deal on the release of detainees.

Kenyatta who met the group in Nairobi before the leaders departed Kenya also named lawmaker and former cabinet minister Dalmas Otieno as an envoy to help them during the process.

President Kenyatta is a leading player in ensuring that the South Sudan government and other stakeholders stay the course of peace.

To discuss progress, he is in constant telephone contact with regional leaders, including IGAD Chair and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

- Xinhua

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