16 December 2017

South Sudan: Fresh Talks Start to Unlock 2015 Peace Agreement

Photo: Jason Patinkin
Civilians fleeing Kajo Keji county, toward the southern border with Uganda

Key players in the South Sudan peace process are demanding tangible results from fresh talks this week. The talks aim to address the sticking points that made the 2015 peace agreement difficult to implement and plunged the country into turmoil.

The three-day talks began on December 15 with President Salva Kiir backed by Uganda and Egypt, against imposition of an external solution and an arms embargo, which Juba believes Sudan and Ethiopia tacitly support.

This has ignited a flurry of diplomatic manoeuvres as the main donors Troika -- the US, UK and Norway -- and the UN Security Council push for the Revitalisation Programme (the name of the talks) to produce real peace from next year.

Countries in the region are now divided into two camps based on strategic interests with Egypt, the latest active entrant, seeking allies in opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on River Nile.

Ethiopia and Sudan are the main supporters of the dam and have been enhancing economic and military ties in the recent past. Other Igad partner states -- Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia -- are fighting perceptions of being partisan.

Revitalisation programme

South Sudan is concerned that the revitalisation programme as designed by the Igad is tantamount to reopening of the August 2015 peace agreement.

President Salva Kiir has already written to the Igad Special Envoy complaining that Juba was sidelined in the Council of Ministers meeting in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, on November 28, in which the programme was fine-tuned in its absence.

"South Sudan is now an equal member of the Igad, the UN and the AU. That must be underlined and taken seriously. We have concrete agreement with Igad on what revitalisation is all about and we insist it should be carried out in the spirit of the 2015 agreement, not the renegotiation or an agenda for regime change," said President Kiir in the letter dated December 6.

Former detainees

President Kiir appeared to blame Ethiopian Prime Minister and chairman of Igad, Hailemariam Desalegn, for sidelining South Sudan, while complaining that the pre-forum consultation report was authored by former detainees and other members of the opposition at the expense of the Juba government.

Jimmy Deng, South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya, told The EastAfrican that the government was opposed to any attempts to renegotiate the agreement and had also taken offence that former detainees are allowed to drive the revitalisation programme.

"Those concerned are yet to respond but we will see when the consultations start whether the government views have been incorporated. But the government position is clear; no further renegotiations and the view of former detainees should not be the only ones being considered," said Mr Deng.

President Kiir is specifically opposed to suggestions in the Igad document that the country returns to the original 10 states as opposed to 32 that he created to assuage ethnic divisions.

This has been the position of rebel leader Dr Riek Machar since President Kiir initially created 28 states in January 2015.

The document is also keen on the implementation of Chapter 5, which calls for bringing those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to be brought to justice and compensation to those whose property were taken over by government forces.

Pressure on President Kiir

Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican that the Troika, especially the US, has been putting pressure on President Kiir to allow for genuine peace or step aside, a position Juba views as deliberate efforts at regime change.

The US is also concerned that Uganda, with the direct influence of President Yoweri Museveni, has been the main supplier of weapons to South Sudan, while Egypt recently came in with military aid to win over Juba as an ally against the Ethiopian River Nile project.

On December 11, an Egyptian military delegation led by Lt Gen Mustafa Amin Ali, arrived in Juba for a five-day visit in which the two countries signed a framework deal for military co-operation.

Failed arms embargo

Dr Machar has been accusing Egypt of supplying weapons to South Sudan that were used during the recent clashes in his Pagak headquarters and Malakal, a charge that Cairo has denies.

The US that has been campaigning for an arms embargo against South Sudan, is also concerned that the region, especially Uganda, Kenya and Sudan are not capable of implementing such a resolution.

In December last year, the UN Security Council failed to adopt a US-drafted resolution to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions on South Sudan, after it was vetoed by China and Russia.

In the meantime, Ethiopia and Sudan have increased their co-operation over the Renaissance dam. Sudan President Omar Al Bashir on a visit to Ethiopia in March, said that the dam is considered the renaissance of Sudan because his government understands the mutual benefits the project could offer both Ethiopia and Sudan.

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