The handshake to end recurring nightmare

This is not the first handshake between Mr Machar (left) and South Sudan President Salva Kiir

This is not the first handshake between Mr Machar (left) and South Sudan President Salva Kiir

Ululations, song and dance erupted in a packed hall in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, as South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed what they called the “final final” peace deal.

The two hugged and smiled as they exchanged the signed documents at an extraordinary summit of regional leaders, who have been pushing for the former enemies to end a brutal five-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced four million people from their homes.

It has taken 15 long months of shuttling between the region’s capitals to negotiate this latest attempt to bring peace to the world’s youngest nation.

“As we witness this historic milestone, we remember and grieve for the victims of the violence and hope this agreement closes that dark chapter in South Sudan,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said after the signing.

 

And it has been a dark and shameful period for the country – with both sides accused of horrendous atrocities.

 

The UN has documented horrific accounts of gang rape, throats being slit and mass shootings.

Amid hyperinflation, aid agencies have warned again that the humanitarian situation in the oil-rich country continues to worsen, with millions facing starvation.

Speaking to the BBC after the ceremony, negotiators from both sides said they realised the task ahead in bring lasting peace for their people.

“Our people are right to doubt us, because we have let them down so many times,” opposition negotiator Stephen Par Kuol said.

“But this time around, we are telling the people of South Sudan to count on us to implement this agreement fully.”

Martin Lomuro, South Sudan’s cabinet affairs minister, agreed that the “severity of the war” had dented confidence.

“But this is much more of an agreement that is designed to lay a foundation for a new country and this is why I feel so good about it because before we haven’t had a chance to build a proper nation,” he said.

Realistically both sides have reached a stalemate – and run out of money. Plus pressure from South Sudan’s neighbours, who are hosting many of those who have fled, has led to a more sober reconciliation.

Despite the optimism, diplomats at the ceremony – many of whom witnessed a similar scene three years ago – expressed concerns about the ability of each side to honour their commitments. -BBC

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