South Sudan committed to negotiating peace deal

president salva kiirSouth Sudan yesterday reiterated its commitment to negotiating a comprehensive peace deal with the armed movement led by former Vice President Riek Machar.

“We are committed to working to reach a peace deal on the deadline (of March 5),” Information Minister Michael Makuei told Xinhua over the phone from Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

The mediators of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have earlier availed the South Sudanese rivals a chance until March 5 to reach a peace agreement that ends the armed clashes in the young country.

South Sudan, which became an independent state on July 9, 2011, plunged into violence in December 2013, when fighting erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and defectors led by his former deputy Riek Machar.

The conflict soon turned into an all-out war, with the violence taking on an ethnic dimension that pitted the president’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.

The clashes have left thousands of South Sudanese dead and around 1.9 million people displaced.

Recent battles in South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity States’ areas cast doubts over the possibility of reaching consensus on a lasting peace deal.

“It is true there are battles now and repeated violations to the ceasefire by the rebels, but this will not deter us from working to reach a peace agreement according to the deadline agreed upon,” Makuei said.

“We reiterate once again that the quest for peace through negotiations is a goal that the South Sudan government would not deviate from due to its responsibility.”

Makuei said the government decision to postpone the general elections, originally slated for next June, and to extend President Salva Kiir’s term of office for two years emphasize the government’s desire to achieve peace and avail the opportunity before the peace efforts.

“We have decided to postpone the elections to give a chance for peace,” he said. “We cannot walk on the peace road and hold general elections at the same time.”

“Holding the elections means blocking the way before the peace process,” Makuei said.

He expressed surprise at the rebels’ rejection of the decision.

“This group does not have a primary stance, because previously they demanded postponement of the elections and when this happened, they rejected it,” Makuei said.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and rebel leader Riek Machar signed on Feb. 2 an agreement stipulating ceasefire, powersharing and formation of an interim government prior to reaching a comprehensive prospect for ending the conflict by March 5.

On the eve of expected negotiations today between the parties to the conflict, South Sudan has witnessed escalating violence in different parts of the country, especially the oil producing areas.

South Sudan media, quoting Defense Minister Kuol Manyang, reported fierce battles between government forces and the rebels over the past three days, including heavy shelling in several sites in the oil-rich northern state of Upper Nile, including Renk and Melut.

Manyang said that in one village, Kaka, about 80 government soldiers were wounded and 50 others missing in three days of fighting, amid heavy artillery bombardment.

In the phone interview on yesterday, Makuei, the information minister, accused the rebels of organized violation of the ceasefire agreement.

“They sign the agreements and then intentionally violate them,” he said. “They do not respect any deal they sign.”


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