JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - The SPLM-North (Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North) faction based in Sudan's Nuba Mountains suspended peace talks in Juba with Khartoum officials after military forces allegedly bombed several areas in the region and killed a sheik on Tuesday. The group's leader said the sustained attack shows the Sudanese government's failure to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement the parties signed last month.
Amar Amoua, SPLM-North's Secretary General and spokesperson for the group, told reporters in Juba Wednesday his group will not take part in any peace talks until there is a full investigation into the attack. For the last 10 days, Amoua said Sudanese government forces bombarded several areas of the Nuba Mountains.
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Amoua said SPLM-North will not return to the bargaining table until their demands are met.
"Our coming back to negotiate on table is bound by government decision to clear all these things. The government should withdraw its forces and stop from gaining new ground by occupying new areas. We will not allow that and also we need the government to release immediately the traders whom they have arrested with all their property and hand them to SPLM/N authorities in Nuba Mountains," Amoua told South Sudan in Focus.
Amoua said Tuesday's attack included 25 armed Land Cruisers that attacked civilians in Kor Waral, a rebel-controlled area of the Nuba Mountains. He said a local chief named Sheik Mahamed Afdal Fadil and one soldier were killed in the area, while at least 10 people are missing.
"We are asking the government also to make thorough investigations into the chief, who is been assassinated because he rejected passing of nomads in that new road, which passes through farm lands," Amoua told VOA.
The Sudanese government downplayed the accusations, blaming the attack on cattle herders.
Mohammed Hassan Eltaishi, a spokesman representing the transitional Sudanese government delegation at the peace talks in Juba, told reporters Tuesday that the government has full knowledge of what he referred to as the "incident," and indicated military leaders were not involved in the attack.
"The incident happened at the context of local inhabitants who happen to be herders attacking local merchants. Some fell victim and got captured and local goods were confiscated. The government regrets and condemns in the strongest terms these unfortunate events that keep happening in the area and in other parts of the country," said Eltaishi.
It is particularly troublesome that "the event" took place at a time when people were entering peace talks, said Eltaishi, adding, "the country is united for the cause of peace in Sudan."
Eltaishi vowed the government would investigate the incident and hold those responsible accountable.
Tutkew Gatluak, South Sudan President Salva Kiir's security advisor and a chief mediator in the talks, called on Sudanese authorities to quickly launch an investigation.
"We have received a report from the SPLM-North, led by Alhilu, because there is an incident that happened in (the) Nuba Mountains. It is an unfortunate incident. It is an environment of peace. We don't want any situation from both parties that interrupts the peace process," said Gatluak.
Talks between the Sudan government and an alliance of more than a dozen rebel groups headed by SPLM-North chairperson Abdelaziz Adam Alhilu was to begin on Wednesday, according to mediators. The alliance includes the rebel group Sudanese Revolutionary Front.
Before the announcement of the SPLM-N's refusal to negotiate, mediators and other observers including the African Union had already convened at Juba's Pyramid Hotel, the venue of the talks.
Jeremiah Kingsley, the African Union ambassador to South Sudan, offered his assurances of support to regional leaders for the Sudan talks.
"We are grateful that the parties have agreed to come here to begin talking. It is not going to be easy; we can only call up on them to fine each other. It is in the interest the Sudanese people who have suffered a great deal. They should put the interest of the people first," Kingsley told South Sudan in Focus.
On Monday, Alhilu said the African Union held 22 rounds of peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebels but the two sides had failed to address the root causes of the problem.