Face-to-face talks between warring parties in South Sudan have been delayed, government and rebel delegations said Saturday, dashing hopes of a swift ceasefire to end raging battles and risks of all-out civil war.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei, part of the delegation to the talks in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, as well as rebel team spokesman Yohanis Musa Pouk, said the two sides would not meet Saturday until an agenda had been drafted by negotiators and agreed by both sides.
However, Makuei confirmed that the two leaders of the delegations met briefly late on Friday, although proper talks had not begun.
"They met," Makuei told AFP, adding that teams were now "waiting to hear the way forward" from the negotiators, who are from the regional East African IGAD bloc of nations.
"The heads of the two delegations need to agree on an agenda… maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow," Pouk told AFP.
Thousands of people are feared to have been killed in the fighting since it erupted on December 15, pitting army units loyal to President Salva Kiir against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by his rival, former vice president Riek Machar.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Friday had spoken optimistically that direct talks would take place on Saturday, after the rival sides spend a day of meeting separately with special envoys from regional nations.
But Addis Ababa's foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said Saturday the two sides would "have to continue the proxy talks", meeting separately with negotiators.
"An agenda has to be formulated, and then after this they'll proceed with face-to-face talks," Dina told AFP, saying there was no timeline set for direct talks, only that they would happen "as soon as possible."
"I cannot predict, it depends on the negotiations," Dina added. –Sapa-AFP