31 March 2018

South Sudan: Warring Parties Dig in Ahead of Peace Talks

Prospects of a lasting peace in South Sudan bleak as the gap between the government proposals and those of the opposition group continues to widen amidst international pressure.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Council of Ministers has set the start of phase III of the talks on April 26, and is hoping that it will use the one month period to narrow the differences.

But the decision by the US to extend the country's national emergency with respect to South Sudan for a year -- because it is a threat to the US national security and foreign policy -- has rattled Juba.

President Salva Kiir's administration has instead accused Washington of working on a regime change.

The continuation of national emergency which was first declared by the Obama administration in 2014, gives Washington the leeway to place additional sanctions on the South Sudanese government.

Maximum attention

In a letter to the Igad Council of Ministers issued on March 26, South Sudan Minister for Cabinet Affairs, Dr Martin Elia Lomurö, who is also the leader of the government delegation at the negotiations, said the regional body should pay maximum attention to the negative impact of the US policy towards South Sudan such as the unilateral imposition of arms embargo and the recent placing of 15 oil companies on the US Department of Commerce's Entity List.

"The government strongly believes that the opposition group now thinks the measures the US is taking against the government will make it collapse and therefore see no reason to genuinely negotiate with a government, which they are due to takeover. This point is critical and must not be ignored because it promotes conflict rather than peace," said Mr Lomuro.

The opposition proposes that the main rebel leader Dr Riek Machar be allowed to re-join the talks, or President Salva Kiir steps down from leading the transitional government of national unity. The group also proposes a lean Cabinet and members of the transitional parliament to be reduced to about 200.

The opposition group also wants the country to adopt a federal system and that the 32 states that have been created by President Kiir reverted to 10 in line with the 2015 agreement.

The government on the other hand, is resisting Dr Machar re-joining the talks and the government. It is also opposed to the two-army system and the restructuring of the Cabinet of the transitional government to include other armed and non-armed groups.

Machar release

The Igad Council of Ministers on March 26 recommended the release of Dr Machar from house arrest in South Africa, but on condition that he renounces violence, commits not obstruct the peace process and agrees to be relocated to another country that is not neighbouring South Sudan.

But the first vice-president Taban Deng Gai, in a statement said the gap between what the government proposes and what the opposition is wants is huge and difficult to close.

"The opposition groups are saying the president must either accept Riek Machar or they go together. For us, this is a nonstarter. If Riek comes to Juba, it means another war and our people are not ready for it," he said.

Duop Chak Wuol, the editor-in-chief of the South Sudan News Agency told The EastAfrican that the condition that Dr Machar be relocated to a different country instead of allowing him to go to any place of his own choosing, shows double standards.

"Igad leaders conspire to keep Dr Machar in confinement against his will when President Kiir is enjoying his freedom. The bloc should also explain why it is interested in preventing Dr Machar from participating in South Sudan's politics, yet its main goal is to work for a peaceful solution to the ongoing civil war," said Mr Wuol.

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