11 May 2014

South Sudan Ceasefire 'Just a First Step'

South Sudan's army and rebel forces accused each other on Sunday of violating a ceasefire hours after it came into effect, charges that will frustrate ... ( Resource: South Sudan's Army, Rebels Accuse Each Other Of Breaking Ceasefire

interview

After months of violence and thousands of deaths, the government of South Sudan has agreed to a peace deal with rebels. But the problems aren't over, the EU's ambassador in Juba, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, tells DW.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, have agreed on a ceasefire at peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. How do you assess the agreement? Will we now see peace?

The ceasefire was originally signed on January 23, 2014 by the negotiating parties, but it has been broken several times since then. That is why it was necessary for the two chief protagonists, Kiir and Machar, to meet directly. One of the points: all hostilities must be ended within 24 hours of the signing of the document. In principle, that is just a confirmation of what was signed on January 23. Secondly, they have declared themselves willing to allow the deployment of a monitoring mission led by IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the regional East African organization, ed.] and to leave their own security forces in their agreed positions.

Another important point is that humanitarian access has to be made possible. That's important when you consider that around four million people will need food aid by the end of the year. Some experts are already talking about a potential famine, if food cannot be brought to the affected areas. On top of that, South Sudan has some of the worst infrastructure in the world - 60 percent of the country is not accessible at all.

The third point is the negotiation on the subject of a transitional government. Kiir was elected in 2010, and will be in office until 2015. Now, both parties have to agree on what they can achieve up to that point and beyond because the government has to remain functional. To that extent the agreement that was signed on Friday [09.05.2014] is a first, very important step. Now, the implementation must follow - and that is always the hardest part.

The US has long since imposed sanctions on two high-ranking military leaders on each side, but the EU is still thinking about it - why the hesitation?

We're not hesitating, but the process is more complicated than in the United States, where there is only one government that has to decide. We have 28 governments, and they have to reach a consensus on their position. We are in the process of reaching an agreement on the subject, but it takes a little longer because of the voting procedure in the capitals and in Brussels. We also have to consider the legal situation. We have to be sure that individuals hit by sanctions have been proven to commit abuses. And that isn't easy when you consider that we don't have a single report - either from the United Nations or from South Sudanese sources - that clearly puts the blame on any individual.

The EU supported President Kiir for a long time, even though the conflict was already on the cards last summer when he dismissed his entire government. Shouldn't the EU take some of the blame for this?

We in the EU have been thinking about this from a very early stage - since the middle of last year - and have informed our capitals. The problem is that it is very difficult with these risks to guess when a situation will reach the tipping point. President Kiir is the democratically elected leader of his country. And if authoritarian tendencies do become visible it doesn't necessarily mean that you should burn all the bridges. We all saw that the situation was escalating, but few people saw - including myself - was that the political escalation within the governing SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement] would take on an ethnic dimension inside a few hours and days, and lead to massacres and reprisals across the entire country.

The EU's combat force has existed since 2007 and is supposed to be able to intervene in military conflicts on short notice. But it has not been used to date. Wouldn't this be an appropriate time?

The EU is very active in West Africa, Mali, and Chad - especially the French troops. The Germans are still engaged in Afghanistan. I know that there is talk about increasing involvement in Africa and taking over duties there - to the extent that there is a withdrawal in Afghanistan and other spots. But I have my doubts that this would make sense in South Sudan. It's a terrain that German soldiers do not know at all.

During the rainy season it becomes a swamp landscape with very difficult conditions. If they're in a refugee camp during the monsoon, the water is knee deep. I think that African soldiers are better suited to cope with a mission like that. That's why we have a lot of Ethiopians, Rwandans, and Ugandans. What's more, there are few German interests, such as German citizens or investments, to defend there.

Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff is the European Union ambassador to South Sudan.

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