Juba (AFP) – In what has been hailed as a major breakthrough, rival South Sudanese leaders on Sunday reached agreement on a key military provision of their stuttering peace deal.
President Salva Kiir and his rival, Vice-President Riek Machar, have agreed on the creation of a unified command of the armed forces, one of the many crucial unresolved problems which delay the implementation of the 2018 agreement to end the country’s bloody five-year civil war.
“Peace is a matter of security and today we have (reached) an important milestone,” said Martin Abucha, who signed the agreement on behalf of Machar’s opposition, the SPLM/A-IO.
Presidential Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin hailed the agreement – signed following mediation by neighboring Sudan – as a “necessary step…that paves the way for a stable government of the Republic of Sudan from South”.
Tensions between forces loyal to Kiir and former rebel leader Machar have recently escalated, raising fears among the international community of a return to widespread conflict in the world’s youngest nation.
The two men were at the ceremony in the capital Juba for the signing of the agreement, which stipulates a 60-40 split in favor of Kiir’s side of key leadership positions in the army, police and national security forces. .
Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, the number two in the ruling council after the Sudanese coup, arrived in Juba on Friday in a bid to break the deadlock over security arrangements.
Sudan, one of the guarantors of the 2018 deal, crafted the proposal after Kiir issued a presidential decree on March 25 on the formation of the military command structure, a decision that was quickly rejected by Machar as “unilateral” action.
Landlocked South Sudan, one of the poorest countries on the planet despite large oil reserves, has suffered from chronic instability since declaring independence from Sudan in 2011, spending almost half of its life as a nation at war.
He has struggled to draw a line under the 2013-2018 conflict that erupted after Kiir accused Machar of an attempted coup. Nearly 400,000 people have lost their lives and millions more have been displaced by the fighting.
UN warns of potential ‘catastrophe’
Although the pair formed a power-sharing unity government more than two years ago, South Sudan has continued to swing from crisis to crisis, battling floods, hunger, violence and strife policies that threatened to undo even the limited progress of the faltering peace process. .
The fragile peacemaking came under pressure last month when Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) withdrew from a body monitoring the process in protest at the continued “unprovoked” attacks on his bases by his “peace partner”. .
The United States last week expressed concern over rising tensions, lamenting reported clashes in Upper Nile state and warning that the opposition move undermines the peace deal.
Last month, the UN Security Council voted to extend its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for another year, although Russia and China abstained.
The operation, with up to 17,000 troops and 2,100 police, is one of the costliest for the UN, with an annual budget exceeding $1 billion.
During a presentation to the Security Council, the UN envoy for South Sudan, Nicholas Haysam, issued a stern warning to the country’s leaders to do more to prepare for the elections to be held in less than a year.
“Elections have the potential to be a moment of nation-building, or a disaster,” he said.
While he highlighted progress in some areas, including the functioning of key government institutions and parliament, other issues have stalled, including the process of drafting a new constitution.
The UN has repeatedly criticized South Sudan’s leaders for their role in stoking violence, suppressing political freedoms and plundering public coffers.
South Sudan also faces humanitarian challenges caused by conflict as well as climate-related disasters such as floods and drought, prompting the UN on Thursday to launch a 1-year relief package. $6 billion.
He said the funding will be used to provide emergency life-saving assistance and protection in a country where more than two-thirds of the population, or nearly nine million people, are estimated to need help.
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