NAIROBI, Kenya – South Sudan government negotiators and rebel representatives met Monday for a fifth round of peace talks since fighting broke out in the world's newest country in December.
Peace talks have been on and off for months between the government and rebels loyal to the former vice president. The potential onset of mass hunger is adding additional pressure for a long-term solution to the standoff.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir directed his delegation to go to the talks in Ethiopia and come back with peace, according to a post on the government Twitter feed. The meeting's key agenda is to finalize and sign a previously agreed to cease-fire deal. The two sides agreed to finalize their agreement by next Monday.
Regional governments and others must ensure that the latest talks yield meaningful results and that both parties lay down their weapons, said Oxfam's South Sudan director, Tariq Riebl. Riebl also said a roadmap that leads to a transitional government is also needed.
Riebl called on the international community to help South Sudan avoid the possible onset of famine.
Global aid leaders have warned that hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan face severe hunger because of the fighting. More than 1 million people fled their homes after the fighting broke out, and many families were not able to plant crops during the spring planting season.
The U.N. Security Council should be prepared to impose "deep and biting" targeted sanctions against key officials on both sides of the conflict "who are undermining the talks," said advocacy group Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast.
The regional bloc overseeing the talks, IGAD, said that Monday's resumption of talks is the fifth session of peace negotiations.
"Last time talks were called off because the combatants couldn't agree to a formula for inclusivity that would allow civil society and religious leaders to participate in the talks. Even as the mediators' deadline approaches and a man-made famine looms, the principle of inclusivity must remain a central element of the process," said Enough Project analyst Akshaya Kumar. "Another backroom deal is not what South Sudan needs."