A United Nations report warns that the slow implementation of a revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan risks plunging the country back into “full-scale conflict”.
Political, military and ethnic divisions in South Sudan are widening, leading to multiple violent incidents between key signatories to last year’s ceasefire, the possibility of a resumption of war and nearly 100,000 people facing “conditions of starvation,” the statement said.
In the 81-page report sent to the UN Security Council on Monday, a panel of experts said the slow reforms of President Salva Kiir’s government and more than a year of political strife and disagreements over how to implementing the February 2020 ceasefire and a 2018 peace deal led to a frayed relationship between Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar.
Discontent within the Kiir Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and its power base within the Dinka ethnic group over its handling of the transition “has led to calls for new leadership,” according to the report.
He cited several confidential sources in the Kiir camp, saying that divisions had formed around the distribution of government positions and that the president’s attempts “to deal with internal tensions between his supporters had failed and had resulted in incidents of security outside the capital ”.
As for Machar, the panel said his inability to influence government decision-making or stimulate the implementation of the ceasefire led the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Army into opposition, which is led by the vice-president, to start “to separate”.
Some political and military leaders in Machar’s camp are challenging his leadership, and some officers have defected to the government, experts said.
400,000 people killed
There were high hopes for peace and stability once oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. But the country descended into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir began to fight loyalists to Machar, his former vice-president who belongs to the Nuer ethnic group.
Many attempts at peace failed, including a deal that saw Machar return as vice president in 2016 only to flee months later amid more fighting. The civil war killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions of people.
Intense international pressure followed the recent peace agreement and the coalition government led by Kiir, with Machar as deputy. But the government failed to carry out many reforms, including completing the unification of the army command, the graduation of a unified force, and the reconstitution of the transitional National Legislative Assembly.
Given the concerns of civil society, political leaders and military officials about the accord’s ability to bring lasting peace to South Sudan and their emerging calls for Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar to step down, an urgent commitment is necessary to avoid a return to the big – scale conflict, ”the panel said.
Experts cited multiple sources within the government and armed groups mostly agreeing that two and a half years after the signing of the peace agreement, its momentum has weakened. They said officials from Kiir and Machar’s parties also agreed that “the slow pace of implementation and the shift in political stance of some of the signatories made the deal unlikely to be implemented.”
The panel also said that the unity government had failed to improve the protection of the rights of civilians “who have been continually threatened by government security forces and armed groups”.
The International Famine Warning System has reported that around half of South Sudan’s population faces “high levels of acute food insecurity” and that more than 92,000 people live in several regions – including Grand Pibor administrative area, northern Bahr al-Ghazal and Warrap – were facing famine conditions in early March 2021, ”experts said.
The people of South Sudan “need humanitarian assistance more than ever in 2021,” the report said.
“Despite the humanitarian needs of 8.5 million people, the government has imposed bureaucratic barriers on the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the ongoing conflict has prevented its safe delivery,” he added. .
Experts also called for an arms embargo, which is expected to expire at the end of May, to be kept in place and for new sanctions against those who hamper the implementation of the restored 2018 peace agreement and impede the delivery of humanitarian aid.
They also called for an independent assessment of how the government is managing its arms stockpiles.