Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

South Sudan’s rivals form unity government in hope of ending civil war

The conflict has raged in the world’s youngest nation since 2013, leaving at least 400,000 people dead

South Sudan, the world’s newest country and possibly one of its most unfortunate, may have finally ended its latest chapter of strife after its rival leaders announced the formation of a coalition unity government that many hope will survive the distrust and ethnic enmity that defined life in the country for decades.

At a ceremony long on wishful rhetoric and lofty promises, President Salva Kiir declared “the official end of the war". He said "we can now proclaim a new dawn” after a conflict in which about 400,000 people died and more than two million were displaced since 2013.

Peace, he said, was "never to be shaken ever again". He said he forgave opposition leader Riek Machar and asked for his rival’s forgiveness. The latest agreement came after a series of failed attempts at peace, including in 2016 when Mr Machar returned as vice president only to flee again in the face of renewed hostilities.

However, mounting international pressure, including from the US, followed the most recent peace deal in 2018, with Pope Francis kissing the feet of the two rivals last year in a dramatic gesture to persuade them to put their differences aside.

Saturday's ceremony started with a photo of that gesture presented to them as a reminder of what’s at stake. Both leaders made key concessions before an agreement was reached on a coalition government.

“While much work remains to be done, this is an important milestone in the path to peace,” the US embassy in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, said in a message of congratulations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it a “significant achievement”.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, breaking up what was Africa’s largest country. Its independence after decades of civil war carried so much promise, but that was soon shattered.

The country slid into civil war in 2013 as supporters of Mr Kiir and Mr Machar clashed.

The region of South Sudan has seen little other than civil war since Sudan gained independence in 1956. The mainly animist and Christian south first took up arms against the Arabised and Muslim north in 1955 in a bout of civil strife that lasted until 1972.

The region did not have much respite, plunging into civil war against the north again in 1983. That conflict lasted about two decades before Khartoum agreed to grant the region the right to self-determination.

Throughout these conflicts, hundreds of thousands were killed, including many who starved to death or succumbed to disease, and many more have been displaced.

The latest war, however, is essentially tribal, pitting two of Africa’s largest Nilotic tribes - President Kiir’s Dinka and Mr Machar’s Nuer - against each other in a struggle for domination of the oil-rich region bordering Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Republic of Central Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Updated: February 24, 2020 07:43 AM

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