By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 27, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – Leader of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO), Riek Machar, on Thursday welcomed a final peace agreement signed by President Salva Kiir, aimed to end the 20-month long conflict in South Sudan.
Riek Machar answers questions during a press conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on July 9, 2014 (Photo AFP/Zacharias Abubeker)
“We welcome the signing of the peace agreement by President Salva Kiir although it was nine days late from the scheduled signing ceremony,” Machar told Sudan Tribune on Thursday in an exclusive interview in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
President Kiir signed the peace deal in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, on Wednesday more than one week after refusing to do so. Despite signing the long-awaited peace deal, the South Sudanese president has however expressed “serious reservations” he did not specify with regard to the mediation process, but said he would sign the deal even if his reservations were not considered in the document.
“With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this document,” Kiir told regional leaders before he signed, adding “some features of the document are not in the interest of just and lasting peace.”
“We had only one of the two options, the option of an imposed peace or the option of a continued war,” he added.
However rebel leader Machar, now designated first vice president, Machar, told Sudan Tribune that his opposition group had also reservations but had dropped the reservations and signed the peace agreement for the sake of peace, further calling on the president to do so.
“We dropped our reservations in favor of peace and he [president Kiir] should also drop his reservations in favor for peace. If he [president Kiir] has reservations he should keep them to himself like we kept to ourselves,” he added.
Machar however decline to reveal the reservations he said his side had, saying it was unnecessary to disclose now after a peace deal was signed.
However, opposition sources close to the peace talks said the rebels had reservations on many issues on governance, security arrangements, power sharing, accountability and justice as well as wealth sharing.
The rebels wanted federalism to be incorporated into the agreement and only implemented during the transitional period. IGAD Plus document says this will be worked out in the constitution making process by the unity government. Rebels also worked out a specific wealth sharing in the country which was also dropped, among others.
The former vice president expressed commitment to fully implement the internationally backed and regional brokered peace deal as he is put in charge of coordinating the implementation of the peace deal with all the stakeholders in the country, region and in the wider international community.
“We signed the agreement because we were convinced we can implement it,” he said, adding “We will implement it as long as the government is ready to do so.”
When asked if he trusted Wednesday’s peace accord signed by president Kiir, he said, “I can’t tell you I trust he will implement it,” pointing to the reservations the government in Juba raised.
The compromised peace agreement outlines what role the international community and the regional actors should play for the implementation of the peace agreement.
In terms of security, the agreement states that the capital Juba must be demilitarized within 25 kilometers radius to form a joint integrated police from both sides. Other towns such as Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, known as the most affected areas, will also be demilitarized according to the agreement.
However as that will take longer time, the international community is expected to temporarily take over the security of towns until a joint integrated police as well as united forces are deployed that would protect the barracks.
For the effective implementation of the agreement, Machar underscored a need by the international community and the regional actors to seriously look at the monitoring aspect. He also called on the international community to work on ensuring that the economy of the country is run properly.
According to the agreement, permanent ceasefire must take effect within 72 hours of the signing of the final peace deal, which is on Saturday evening. President Kiir issued a republican decree on Thursday evening declaring the permanent ceasefire to come into effect by 29 August midnight and ordered his forces to implement it accordingly.
Machar’s group however accused the government of carrying out offensive against their forces in Upper Nile region for the last three days in an attempt to recapture territories before the permanent ceasefire comes into effect.
But if the two sides failed to honor the agreement, the international community is expected to look other ways of imposing the peace agreement, with the United Nations warning to impose sanctions on party that will obstruct implementation of the deal.
The international community has previously threatened with tougher measures against any of the two sides that attempt to spoil the peace efforts.
RIVALS TRADE ATTACK ACCUSATIONS
Prior to Wednesday’s signing, the South Sudanese president accused forces loyal to Machar of launching attacks on government forces on that same day.
“As we have gathered here, the spoilers of peace have just launched an attack on the position of our forces in Bentiu and in Nhialdiu. They did this afternoon. You can now see who is for peace and who is for continuous war,” Kiir said in the capital, Juba.
Machar however dismissed the allegations as fabricated.
“When the president said yesterday that our forces were fighting in Bentiu, he was lying,” Machar told Sudan Tribune.
“It was his troops the ones that went south and attacked us in the locations south of Bentiu,” he said.
Machar accused government forces of yet being on the offensive. He alleged government forces were attacking their positions on Bor and around Malakal on Thursday. He warned the government’s continued attacks will spoil the peace process.
“Unless the international community comes in to pressurize the government to implement its part, the peace process would fail,” he further warned.
It is however feared that the split within president Kiir’s government between pro-peace and anti-peace political and military leaders may spoil the implementation of the deal. Kiir’s army chief of general staff, Paul Malong Awan, has declared opposition to the peace deal his commander-in-chief signed.
Also other political leaders, such as government’s spokesperson, Michael Makuei Lueth is said to be against the peace agreement and walked out of the Freedom Hall in protest in Juba as president Kiir was about to sign the deal.
A reporter of the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV), Abraham Garang, posted on his Facebook page that he was prevented from airing live program of the signing event by the TV director, citing that he was told the order came from minister Makuei.
Other senior officials, including members of the tribal Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), a Dinka community where the president hails, also were opposed to the peace agreement.
IGAD WELCOMES PEACE DEAL
Meanwhile, Special Envoys of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional bloc mediating South Sudan’s peace process for the past 20 months, have welcomed leaders of the two warring parties as well as other Stakeholders including the Adherents for signing the Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic South Sudan.
“At this important juncture, we call upon the warring parties to strictly implement the Permanent Ceasefire within 72 hours of the signing of the Agreement, as provided for in Chapter II, Article. 1. of the Agreement,” the Special Envoys said in a statement, Thursday.
“We recognize that the signing of this Agreement is the end of the protracted phase of negotiations and the beginning of the implementation phase,” said the statement.
The mediators stressed a need to focus on the full and complete implementation of the agreement which is considered to be the biggest challenge ahead to completely resolve the political crises in the youngest east African nation.
“We are confident that, if this Agreement is implemented with sustained political will, courage, integrity and diligence, it will bring lasting peace and prosperity for the people of South Sudan.”
The IGAD Special Envoys further urged all parties to the conflict, the people of South Sudan, members of IGAD-PLUS and the entire international community to join hands in the full implementation and realization of the peace Agreement as well as the successful establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity and beyond.