State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf issued a press statement to mark the beginning of direct talks on Saturday between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his fired former vice president-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar. Violence has raged for three weeks after the president accused Machar of attempting a coup.
"Today the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) announced direct talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between the parties to the conflict in South Sudan. We are grateful for IGAD’s extraordinary efforts to convene the parties and strongly support the efforts of its mediators, former Minister Seyoum Mesfin and General Lazaro Sumbeiywo.
"The parties must use these talks to make rapid, tangible progress on a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access, and the status of political detainees. We urge the Government of South Sudan to uphold its commitments and release political detainees immediately. To be meaningful and productive, discussions of political issues requires the presence of the senior SPLM members currently detained in Juba, among others.
"These talks are of critical importance to the people of South Sudan. There can be no military solution to this conflict. Forging a durable and lasting peace depends on resolving the underlying political causes of the conflict. Special Envoy Booth's presence at the talks in Addis Ababa underscores our enduring commitment to peace, reconciliation, and a unified, democratic South Sudan."
Government forces and rebels have engaged in violent conflict since mid-December, resulting in the death of thousands and the displacement of 180,000 people. African leaders from IGAD engaged in mediation efforts, which imposed a December 31, 2013 deadline for Kiir and Machar to meet face-to-face. Representatives of both men traveled to Ethiopia by the deadline to engage in peace talks.