South Sudan’s warring parties will hold talks in Addis Ababa on Thursday, in a bid to salvage a stalled peace deal, with just days to go until a unity government is meant to be formed.
President Salva Kiir, rebel leader Riek Machar and a handful of other groups inked the peace deal in September 2018, the latest in a long line of efforts to end a devastating conflict now in its sixth year.
However the parties have failed to resolve several crucial issues before a power-sharing government is to be installed on May 12, and are at odds over how to proceed.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), a regional bloc for East Africa, said in a statement it had called the two-day meeting to “develop a clear roadmap” for the formation of the government, and tackle “pending tasks of the agreement”.
Government has insisted the meeting must focus on how to push forward with the formation of the unity government, while Machar’s camp wants a delay of six months to resolve issues such as security for his return.
Machar is living in exile in Khartoum, having been hounded out of Juba in a hail of gunfire in 2016 when a prior deal collapsed.
He is set to return as first vice president under the new deal.
Observers say that crucial steps envisioned in the deal such as establishing a unified army and discussing security control of the capital have yet to take place.
“We would like to see an extension being agreed upon by the parties, but we would also like to see that the government is committed politically and resources wise, so that we implement the activities in the agreement,” senior SPLM-IO member Kang Pal Chol told AFP.
“For now we believe we will reach a consensus,” he said, adding that Machar would attend the meeting in Addis Ababa.
Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the president would be represented by members of his negotiating team.
South Sudan’s war broke out two years after independence from Sudan, after Kiir accused his former vice president Machar of plotting a coup against him.
Battles between members of Machar’s Nuer community and Kiir’s Dinka people were characterised by brutal violence on both sides, rape and UN warnings about “ethnic cleansing”.
An August 2015 peace deal collapsed almost a year after it was signed and the conflict spread, drawing in more groups around the country.
The fighting has killed around 380,000 people and forced more than four million South Sudanese — almost a third of the population — to flee their homes.
While the latest peace deal largely stopped fighting, violence has continued in some regions with rebel groups who did not sign up to it.
A United Nations panel of experts report released on Tuesday said that patience was wearing thin, with the failure to advance on a deal described as “a bargain between elites facing a narrowing range of options”.
The report highlighted government’s resistance to provisions in the deal for warring parties to canton their troops, demilitarise civilian areas, collect certain heavy weapons and reveal the size and location of their forces.
The latest peace deal was also largely pushed by longtime Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, whose ouster has raised fears there is no one with the will or influence to get the South Sudanese to implement it.
Another development has raised questions about government’s will to push forward with the deal.
The Addis meeting comes just days after it was revealed Kiir had hired an American lobby firm to block the formation of a hybrid African Union-South Sudan court to try war crimes, stipulated in the peace agreement.