EXCLUSIVE-S.Sudan rebel leader says government wants to scupper peace talks

Fri Jan 31, 2014 4:30pm GMT

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By Goran Tomasevic

JONGLEI STATE, South Sudan Jan 31 (Reuters) - South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar said on Friday that government threats to try him for treason were an attempt to scupper peace talks, and called for the president to resign, in his first face-to-face interview since violence erupted.

The government said this week that former vice president Machar and six of his allies should face the charge, accusing him of trying to launch a coup after fighting broke out between rival groups of soldiers in the capital mid-December.

Machar denied the accusation and took refuge in remote Jonglei state as clashes between forces loyal to him and government troops spread across the oil-producing nation, killing thousands.

"I am not aware of why we should face those charges for an alleged coup that never happened," Machar told Reuters in his bush hideout. "(It) is another attempt to stop peace talks."

Both sides agreed to negotiations in neighbouring Ethiopia following diplomatic pressure from regional powers, the United Nations and major donors including Washington. They agreed to a ceasefire last week, but violence has continued.

"It would be best for Kiir to resign. We are due for elections in 2015. Before the elections there would be an interim government," Machar said. (Reporting by Goran Tomasevic; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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