South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Friday rejected any possible reduction in the current number of 32 states after consulting with local leaders in Juba.
Kiir said that his government is sticking to its earlier position of maintaining the 32 states or more states after failing to recently agree with Riek Machar, leader of the main-opposition group the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) over the contentious issue in Ethiopia.
"What brought us here today is the issue of states, I brought this to you so that you decide, my brother Riek Machar and other non-South Sudanese who are living with the blood of South Sudanese people have different suggestions on the table, the government is saying 32 states plus Abyei," Kiir told local leaders during consultation meeting in Juba.
The SPLM-IO favors reverting to between ten states and 23 states.
"IGAD(Intergovernmental Authority on Development) and the international community said they need a lean government. We have reached a deadlock, that's why we came back for consultation. We were given six days until tomorrow (Saturday) we will take back what you will decide," said Kiir.
He also criticized foreign influence in the ongoing stalemate over the unresolved number of states issue with the opposition, adding some of these foreign players have shown bias during the talks.
"I have fought the so-called special envoys. They will tell us here something and go there to their heads of states with different information. There are people who stay with us and who have made South Sudan their own project for food, one day if we reach an agreement they will be jobless and this is what they don't want," said Kiir.
Deng Macham, head of South Sudan's council of traditional chiefs, said that South Sudanese people are comfortable with 32 states plus Abyei administrative area or even more.
He added that any decision to change the current status quo would unravel nascent peace gains by throwing the country back to conflict.
"We as traditional chiefs want to meet with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Riek Machar to ask him why he wants to reduce the number of states, and where he is going to take the rest. We even need 37 states to leave alone those 32 people are talking about," said Macham.
Kiir on Wednesday said that he had made tactical withdrawal after the failed talks with Machar in Addis Ababa in order to consult with citizens.
The former warring parties are expected to return to the negotiating table in Addis Ababa on Feb.15.
Meanwhile, Machar has welcomed the East Africa bloc council of ministers recommendations of 10 or 23 states and not 32 as maintained by Kiir.
"We welcomed the recommendations of the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) of 10 states, the recommendations of the IGAD council of ministers of 10 or 23 plus one state (Abyei) and the outcome of the tripartite summit of the three heads of state and government of 10 states," Machar said in a statement issued in Juba.
The IGAD heads of states during the regional body's 34th Extra-ordinary summit last week, accepted Juba's request to undertake further consultation on the number of states.
The issue remains the main contentious issue alongside security arrangements, which are delaying the formation of the much-awaited transitional unity government (TGoNU) slated for Saturday.
IGAD in its official communique released after the meeting said it recognized that the issue of the number of states and their boundaries is an internal South Sudanese matter and hence, solution should come from the South Sudanese people.
South Sudan descended into conflict in December 2013, after President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar leading to fighting between soldiers loyal to the respective leader.
The two leaders are currently implementing the 2018 revitalized peace agreement but have twice failed to form the unity government due to disagreement on the outstanding issues.