Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

One of Africa's worst wars risks revival, South Sudan rebels say

Fears are that the deal could collapse as it did in 2016

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a medals-awarding ceremony for long serving soldiers in Juba. Reuters
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a medals-awarding ceremony for long serving soldiers in Juba. Reuters

South Sudanese rebels said that the nation could plunge again into all-out civil war if there isn’t a six-month delay to properly prepare a power-sharing government that seeks to end one of Africa’s worst conflicts.

Warring sides are due to form a transitional government in May, the latest deal to end five years of bloodshed that have claimed almost 400,000 lives. But the largest rebel group, led by ex-vice president Riek Machar, is demanding more time to integrate its fighters into the army and settle disputes over state boundaries.

President Salva Kiir is urging his former deputy to immediately return to South Sudan’s capital to join the new administration.

“We are definitely not going to be part of any rash government,” the deputy chairman of Mr Machar’s group, Henry Odwar, said in an interview on Tuesday in the capital, Juba. “If we don’t implement the security arrangements, then we are likely to have a government of national unity with two armies and this is a recipe for disaster like what happened in 2016,” when a previous deal collapsed.

Government officials didn’t answer repeated calls seeking comment. The conflict in the country with sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves has its roots in Mr Kiir and Mr Machar’s rivalry, and the failure of their prior peace bid almost three years ago spread violence to previously quiet regions.

More than 4 million people have been uprooted, while aid groups warn that severe food shortages may threaten over half of the East African nation’s roughly 12 million population in the coming months.

Mr Machar’s rebels accuse Mr Kiir’s government of not respecting the timetable set in a September peace accord, which includes prescribing a study of the country’s current composition of 32 states, a number they want reduced. Mr Odwar also said authorities haven’t provided adequate funds to enact new security arrangements.

“The government is intransigent in not wanting peace, because by not implementing the agreement, they don’t want peace,” he said. “And what is the other option – violence?”

The situation is now “effectively, a fragile cease-fire awaiting a finished peace deal,” said Alan Boswell, a researcher with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“A delay is more sensible than other options,” he said. “No one should want a repeat of the 2016 scenario, when international pressure forced the two sides back together in Juba.”

But he warned that further mediation is needed.

“Until Salva Kiir and Riek Machar strike more deals on a path forward, the peace deal will keep spinning its wheels,” he said. “In six months, South Sudan may be stuck in the same spot.”

Updated: April 24, 2019 12:35 PM