Rebel forces opposing the government in South Sudan have threatened to focus on "armed struggle" if ongoing talks under a regional initiative to resolve the crisis fail to take root.
A dialogue steered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) began last week in Addis Ababa after a January 23 accord between the government and the opposition failed to stop fighting that had commenced on December 5.
In order to revive negotiations, the South Sudanese leadership had, out of 11 detained anti-government figures, released seven, who are now participating in the dialogue in Ethiopia. But fresh hurdles have cropped after the freed group declared that instead of representing the opposition, it was now participating in the talks as an independent group.
Piqued by its position, opposition leader and former vice-president, Reik Machar told Sudan Tribune that the decision of party leaders, who have been released, to form a third bloc "does not help the cause" of the resistance. "I didn't understand their decision. We only differ in the armed resistance. Their decision doesn't help the cause, but it is their choice," he observed.
Mr. Machar speculated that IGAD was pressuring the group to alter its role. The rebel leader demanded the release of the remaining detained opposition supporters, pointing out, that they were being held as hostages by the government. Their detention, he said "amounted to the series of violations of the agreements signed by the two parties".
On Friday, an official from the rebel group warned that armed struggle would continue if the ongoing talks in the Ethiopian capital fail. "We will continue our commitment to bring democracy and good governance to the country either through political dialogue as set out by IGAD or armed struggle," said Bor Gatwech, a lawmaker and humanitarian liaison officer with the opposition.
In its tussle for political ascendancy with the government, the opposition seemed to possess the "oil card," on account of the inroads that its forces have made in the country's energy-rich areas.
On Sunday, South Sudan's Oil Minister, Stephen Dhieu Dau, said persistence of the conflict threatens oil flows through neighbouring Sudan. The oil produced in newly independent South Sudan is transited through Sudan, which has most of the pipelines and an exit route to the sea. "The oil continues to flow normally in Upper Nile but there is a growing threat around the oil fields," Mr. Dau was quoted as saying.
Rebel forces have accused neighbouring Uganda of military interference in the South Sudan conflict.