South Sudan's government has withdrawn from peace negotiations with rebel groups, accusing them of using the talks “to buy time as they prepare for war”.
The talks between the government and a coalition of rebel groups that did not sign a 2018 peace agreement that ended a five-year civil war were brokered in Rome by a Catholic association with ties to the Vatican.
Negotiations began in 2019 but have failed to curb violence in the south of the country, despite a ceasefire signed in January 2020.
In a letter seen by AFP, dated November 21 and addressed to the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio, South Sudan's Presidential Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the government “has suspended its participation in the Rome peace talks till further notice”.
“While we have been preparing to engage in serious dialogue with Non-Signatory South Sudan Opposition Group to bring lasting peace to our country, it has come to our attention that this group is using these talks to buy time as they prepare for war,” Mr Benjamin said.
The government previously pulled out of talks last year, accusing one of the groups, the National Salvation Front (NAS), of carrying out indiscriminate attacks in the south of the country. But in August, it said it was ready to resume discussions.
The rebel coalition in October announced it was changing its name from the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOMA) to the Non-signatories.
The world's newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since winning independence from Sudan in 2011, including a civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.
Since the peace deal was signed, the country has endured natural disasters and an economic crisis, with political infighting fuelling further violence and obstructing progress on the terms of the agreement.
The breakdown in the talks came as the UN predicted a grim outlook for the South Sudanese in 2023.
Next year, about 9.4 million people, or 76 per cent of the population, will have humanitarian or protection needs, the Humanitarian Needs Overview estimated.
“Something has to change in South Sudan because the number of people in need continues to rise every year and the resources continue to decrease,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the deputy special representative in the UN Mission in South Sudan.
More than 2.2 million people have become displaced by the protracted internal conflict.
Aid workers attempting to assist those in need are also at risk: South Sudan remains the most violent area for them to work in, with nine humanitarian workers killed in the course of their work since the start of 2022.
“While humanitarians continue to save lives, they continue to die,” Ms Nyanti said.