Juba — South Sudan risks being fragmented if a peace-making and reconciliation initiative to mend broken ties is not given priority, the country's vice president, Riek Machar warned on Thursday.
Machar made the remark at a consultative meeting with representatives of various media organisations at the cabinet premises, during which he shared the objectives of the Peace and National Reconciliation initiative, an idea viewed by many in the country as in an attempt calling on the people to put the past behind them and move forward by offering an amnesty for wrongdoings.
The initiative, consisting of two phases, with the first phase expected to start in April, calls for 200 mobilisers "to be trained and equipped in peace and reconciliation techniques"
He cited a provision in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in which the former rebels turned ruling party - Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), signed a deal to end decades of civil war with Sudan after it seceded in 2011.
The agreement allows for a national reconciliation and healing process to be conducted by the then national government of unity based in Khartoum during the six year of interim period, but failed to do so.
"What we are doing today as the government should have done by the then national government of unity in Khartoum because it is provided in the CPA," Machar told the audience on Thursday.
"This was the responsibility of the government in Khartoum but [it] realised that [it] was not interested until we became an independent state",
He gave the example of Jonglei where ethnic differences have created significant barriers to social ties, including peaceful coexistence and interaction.
"There are a lot of challenges. In this country, this new nation needs peace and a national reconciliation and healing process because our people are traumatised. They still have [a] culture of war; the culture of killing, the attitude of people has not changed. They have not transformed from the culture of war to the culture of peace. War is still in their minds. So as [a] government we need to address to this and this is the time", Machar said.
He argued against voices questioning whether it is right to conduct reconciliation because there appears to be a lot of competing priorities which the government should grant attention.
"A lot of things have happened. What we are seeing should be an eye opener. The killing in the three states of Lakes, Warrap and Unity. Also in Jonglei state, the three main tribes of Dinka - Bor, the Nuer and Mure are not interactive. They have created [a] no man's land because of tribal differences. They are not living the way they were living in the past. The way they used to live is no longer there today. In the past they used to go the same cattle camp, fish together, they used to be bilingual because they were living together. This is no longer there anymore," he explained.
He said the state will be fragmented if acts of violence, revenge killings and social boundaries continues without taking prompt action to ensure reconciliation is a priority.
"If we do not take prompt action these acts will continue and they will multiple. It is better we intervene now and it must be now because there is no better time than now. If we do not act now, we will have a fragmented state", Machar told journalists.
He gave the example of a dramatic apology he made in the house of late John Garang in 2011 during a memorial function in which he admitted responsibility for the killing of thousands of Bor Dinka in 1991 by forces under his command.
"Reconciliation starts with people. On 8 of August 2011, two years ago, I apologised to [the] Dinka Bor because I was the leader of the group. I took the responsibility and I went to Jonglei. I travelled to all the counties with [Jonglei state governor] Kuol Manyang. I went to all the counties even those that he had never visited as the governor of the state", he said, adding that "mind-set must change".
Many expect the initiative to give president Salva Kiir clear recommendations, including implementation of matters such as indemnities to victims of the conflicts and their families, compensation for material damages, the future of armed dissents, the possible reintegration of those dismissed from work on political grounds and the extent to which insurgent leaders who escaped abroad will be pardoned. These matters may be regulated by parliamentary legislation or by presidential decree.
The initiative has been criticised by human rights groups who argue that it institutionalises impunity and impedes any legal action against the security services, including police forces, while proposing penalties for anyone who dares accuse those granted amnesties for crimes. Furthermore, the families of victims and their organisations continue to demand information on the fate of the missing and to insist that "justice" must precede reconciliation.