No South Sudan peace but president dodges sanctions for now
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (UPDATED) – South Sudan President Salva Kiir has won a 15-day reprieve from international sanctions despite refusing to sign a peace deal, but ending the famine-threatened country's civil war could still be far off, experts warn.
Diplomats had said failure to sign a peace deal by Monday, August 24, could trigger "serious consequences" including possible targeted sanctions and an arms embargo, but Kiir still faces a tough challenge to convince hardliners at home of the need to strike an agreement.
Luka Biong Deng, a former government minister now running a peace center at Juba university, has warned of the need to "allay the fears of those who may see themselves as losers in the peace deal."
While rebel chief Riek Machar signed a deal late Monday, August 17, Kiir only initialed parts of the document, diplomats said, with mediators saying he would return at the beginning of September to "finalize" a deal.
On Tuesday, August 18, as Kiir returned to Juba, Information Minister Michael Makuei slammed the deal as a "sellout", and said the government would discuss the deal with the people.
"We strongly believe that this document cannot save the people of South Sudan," Makuei said.
Key issues of disagreement are understood to include details of a power-sharing proposal between the government and rebels, which could see Machar return as vice-president.
Issues of demilitarization of major cities – especially the capital Juba – as well as the presence of Ugandan troops who are backing Kiir, are also sticking points.
"For some, it is not clear yet if the cost of not signing is higher than the cost of signing," an analyst close to the talks said.
Kiir, who said a "peace that cannot be sustained cannot be signed," had warned it would not be possible to sign a credible peace deal because rebel forces have split.
Powerful rebel general Peter Gadet and other key commanders earlier this month accused Machar of seeking power for himself, and said they would not recognize any deal agreed.
Ruling party secretary-general Pagan Amum also signed the deal - but did so not for the government, but rather as a "former detainee", a group of senior leaders arrested as war broke out but later released.
"Should we see the glass half-empty or half-full?" a diplomat at the talks said, but adding, that in their opinion, Kiir was left with "no choice" but to sign.
"But as to his psychological state, I do not know," the diplomat added.
International frustration is at breaking point.
"Failing to comply would entail consequences," the European Union said Tuesday, while the United States said Washington "would consider ways to raise the cost for intransigence."
'Crush the resistance'
Regional leaders are more wary: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – who took part in talks along with fellow leaders from Djibouti, Sudan and Uganda – said it was crucial "to ensure sustainable peace" after the extra time was granted.
"The peace process cannot be forced on any party, and that was why the mediators allowed more time for the government side to consult further," a statement from Kenyatta's office read.
But rebels are skeptical, claiming Kiir is still seeking a military end to the war, which has seen some of the most intense battles in the 20-month conflict in recent months.
Like a barometer of conflict, the UN said Monday that the number sheltering inside its peacekeeping bases had risen by a third in just over a month to almost 200,000 civilians.
Rebel spokesman Mabior Garang criticized the government's failure, accusing Kiir and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – who has sent troops to back Kiir – of hoping to "crush the resistance within the 15 days."
But as war grinds on, the situation grows worse in South Sudan, with the economy in tatters and soaring inflation.
The world's youngest country split from Sudan in July 2011 after a civil war from 1983-2005. It has since spent much of its independence in conflict too.
"There is no perfect agreement," South Sudan civil society groups said in a joint statement. "Enough is enough... the people of South Sudan cannot raise another generation of South Sudanese children in civil war." – Rappler.com