By Deng Machol
South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir has welcomed the regional bloc’s proposal for face-to-face talks with rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar as critical move to end civil war in East Africa, youngest nation.
The Inter – Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been leading talks between the government and the rebels to revive the 2015 peace deal.
The face-to-face meeting is one of the recommendation of the 62nd IGAD Council of Ministers meeting which took place in the Ethiopian capital last week.
In their communiqué, the ministers said the two leaders should meet before the 31st Summit of the Assembly of the African Union to be held on the 1st and 2nd of July in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott.
Kiir met Ethiopia’s prime minister who heads the IGAD council last week and the two leaders agreed that the regional bloc’s proposal for peace is viable.
President Kiir’s spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny said his boss has welcomed a face-to-face talks with Machar as the only way to forge lasting peace in the restive country.
“President Kiir has agreed to meet Machar as proposed by the IGAD Council of Ministers because he is committed to peace. I cannot speculate what they are going to discuss in the meeting now,” Ateny said.
Recently, IGAD gave parties to the High Level Revitalization Forum a bridging proposal on governance and security which gives the post of the First Vice President to Machar’s group.
But the government said the position should be held by any other person form the SPLM/A-IO and not Dr Machar.
“He (president Kiir) has a political will to see this country return to normalcy,” Ateny said.
Machar’s participation in peace process
President Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Machar last meet in July 2016 when the violence erupted at the presidential palace.
Dr. Machar fled the country and is currently in South Africa under house arrest. His group has previously insisted that Machar must be part of negotiations for peace and stability of South Sudan.
In May, earlier South Sudan president forgives exiled ex-deputy and further ask him to return to South Sudan to participate state – building
The IGAD Council of Ministers’ recommendation comes after calls by the president for him to return to the country, but Machar’s loyal rejected the offer of protection on the condition that their boss returns without troops loyal to him.
Government forces had been accused in the past of attacks on local populations as they are suspected of supporting the rebel fighters.
In March this year, IGAD said it would end Machar’s house arrest if he would agree to renounce violence, not obstruct the peace process and relocate to any country ‘outside the region not neighboring South Sudan’, but is not yet done.
The statement indicates that the proposed meeting between the two protagonists ahead of an African Union summit on July 1 in Mauritania will inform a “final decision” on Machar’s participation in the peace process.
Following repeated violations of ceasefires and failure by the parties to agree on a peace deal, many including allies of South Sudan have called on IGAD to take punitive action against saboteurs of peace.
The United Nations Security Council last week renewed sanctions on South Sudan to last until mid-July, while at the same time imposing on June 30 deadline for a peace deal to be reached.
The IGAD council of ministers, following its extra-ordinary summit held in Addis Ababa on May 31, also decided to submit punitive measures against violators of December’s failed cease-fire deal for approval of the assembly of heads of state and government. The statement doesn’t say who would be targeted.
Of recently, the US blacklisted Defence minister Kuol Manyang Juk over ceasefire violations through alleged provision of arms to external forces to attack opposition positions in Pagak last year, while Cabinet Affairs minister Elia Lomuro has also been sanctioned for allegedly threatening journalists against critical coverage of the conflict, obstructed humanitarian missions, and threatened to eliminate the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), and also Gen Koang Rambang Chol of the SPLM/A-IO, who is accused of leading an attack in Bieh State in Jonglei region.
The Security Council members also renewed and extended to May 31, 2019 sanctions imposed on several other key South Sudan leaders, namely; Information minister Michael Makuei, former army deputy chief of staff Malek Rueben and ex-army chief Paul Malong, who turned rebel in April this year.
However, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is expected to fly to South Africa next week to meet with rebel leader Machar in a new effort to reconcile South Sudanese leaders and end years of bloody civil strife
Raila, opposition leader was in Juba two week ago, held undisclosed talks with president Kiir.
There are indications that regional organisations, including IGAD, want to formally engage him since previous peace efforts have collapsed
South Sudanese are impressed with the handshake Raila had with Uhuru. They believe a ceasefire is possible even in their own country. Machar’s team has said they are happy with Raila’s effort.
South Sudan civil conflict
South Sudan plunged into war in December 2013, barely two years after independence from Sudan, after a disagreement between President Kiir and his former deputy Machar deteriorated into a military confrontation.
The conflict now in its fifth year had displaced millions, triggering a regional refugee crisis, while tens of thousands have been killed.