Even with the cessation of hostilities agreement, South Sudan still not out of the woods yet

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Everyone who cares for and has an interest in what is happening in South Sudan heaved a sighed of relief last month when the government of President Salva Kiir and the opposition group led by Dr. Riek Machar, signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Everyone who cares for and has an interest in what is happening in South Sudan heaved a sighed of relief last month when the government of President Salva Kiir and the opposition group led by Dr. Riek Machar, signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 

But, our hope has turned to dismay, what with reports coming from different parts of the country that both government and opposition forces are breaching the agreement. The two parties accuse each other of being the culprit in these acts of violation.

The latest reports of fighting in Malakal, in Upper Nile State, are very disturbing. The opposition forces claim that they have retaken the town, while the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army deny this claim, saying that the government is still in control.

Without taking sides, what is clear from all this back and forth is that there has been a breach of the agreement that was signed in Ethiopia. This does not augur well for the second round of talks that are supposed to be taking place in Addis Ababa now. For, how can two protagonists who are talking about peace be at the same time fighting back at home, endangering the lives of their citizens and disrupting livelihoods?

The latest rounds of talks are coming amidst some unexpected and interesting developments. The seven political detainees who were released as part of the deal to move forward the talks have now come forth and said that they will not participate in the talks as part of Dr. Riek Machar’s team, but as the ‘Third Force’. Interestingly, they say they have no different agenda from the team led by Dr. Riek Machar, other than the fact that they have no control over the rebels fighting the government forces. 

If the seven have no different demands, why should they participate as independents? I am yet to hear them mentioning anything that is of interest to the common person. I think for them, personal interest is more paramount than national interest. I see this move as a sideshow that does not add any value to the peace process. It is a move for personal aggrandizement!

At the same, a group of civil society organizations have demanded their inclusion in the peace talks. They have submitted a list of issues that they say should form part of the agenda of the peace talks. The Church has previously asked to be included in the peace talks. Whether these groups will get an opportunity to participate in the talks is not yet clear. It is my hope and prayer that the politicians will not push them aside and cut deals for their selfish interests!

Media reports have indicated that the warring parties currently in Addis Ababa have not met formally yet. The opposition is demanding that the government fulfills two of the agreements reached earlier; one, the release of the remaining four detainees, and two, the withdrawal of Ugandan forces from South Sudan territory.

From the look of things, it seems that the government is not too keen to fulfill these demands. The rebels have claimed that actually it is the Ugandan air forces that attacked their troops in Malakal, and they responded to that attack, thus breaching the cessation of hostilities agreement.

The issue of Ugandan forces supporting forces loyal to President Kiir is a sticky issue, which is only helping to complicate the peace process. There have also been claims that the South Sudan government is paying to keep the Ugandan soldiers in South Sudan soil. The government of Uganda has denied this claim vehemently, saying that it is paying its own forces, and that it is in South Sudan only to protect its interests, so that the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony may not regroup.

But whether it is for its national interest or not, the Ugandan forces ought to leave so that the South Sudanese would be left to sort out their own issues, of course with the support of the international community. If Uganda is still adamant that it wants to stay in South Sudan, then it will lend credence to the allegation that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is using the South Sudan crisis to fulfill his expansionist intentions! 

All these events make the peace process in South Sudan delicate and unpredictable at this moment. And that is why it is necessary for the international community to put pressure on the major players to make peace sooner than later, with the interest of the nation at heart