South Sudanese rebels have rejected a new peace deal that according to the government had been agreed to by both sides. The news has deflated hopes for an end to South Sudan's nearly five-year civil war.
In a statement issued Monday, the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement said a power-sharing agreement was discussed during talks in Uganda but no formal deal was made.
“The proposal presented by President Yoweri Museveni was discussed verbally, in a cordial environment,” read the statement. “But there was no official document presented to the Chairman and Commander in Chief of the SPLM/SPLA (IO), Dr. Riek Machar... Therefore, the proposal is not official,” it said.
The statement went on to reject the proposal because it “only focuses on accommodation of politicians and ignores radical reforms needed” in South Sudan.
The South Sudan Opposition Alliance, which consists of nine parties, had earlier rejected the proposal. Kwaje Lasu, a spokesman for the opposition alliance, says such an agreement would fail to address the crisis in South Sudan.
“We are not party to it," he said. "This is against our belief of inclusivity of addressing the issues. Above all this discussion that has taken place in the name of bridging proposal on governance — it excluded completely the root cause of the crisis.”
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar held talks Saturday in Uganda’s city of Entebbe, a peninsula on Lake Victoria. While a lasting breakthrough was not expected, there were some hopes after recent steps toward peace. The two sides had agreed on Friday to remove troops from cities after a cease-fire deal in late June.
“This is the time to bridge the gap of trust between them and to ensure that they work together again. That was the whole effort in Uganda," said James Okuk, who teaches political science at the University of Juba. "So apart from that there is no breakthrough regarding the power sharing, because power sharing also involves those below them, the people around them, the people who are working with them. So they need to benefit from the deal,” said Okuk.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed said Sunday the two leaders approved a power-sharing agreement that would return Riek Machar from exile and to the vice presidency, although Machar agreed only in principle.
It was not clear if the rebels' rejection of that deal scuttled further talks tentatively set for Khartoum and Kenya. When asked to confirm reports the two leaders were headed to Nairobi this week, Kenyan officials told VOA there was no program scheduled.
The latest peace efforts are part of plans to end the civil war that erupted in 2013 after a falling out between the two leaders. The two sides made a similar power-sharing agreement in 2015, but a year later the deal collapsed and Machar fled the country.