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South Sudan’s path to peace still littered with obstacles

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YAHOO NEWS 24 FEB 2020

Juba (AFP) – South Sudan’s main rivals are once again uncomfortably sharing power, but analysts warn it will be a long and perilous path to peace for the war-ravaged nation.

Rebel leader Riek Machar on Saturday was sworn in as first vice president, embracing his bitter rival President Salva Kiir who vowed the weary nation’s suffering was finally over.

The appointment was part of broader peace efforts that have struggled to fully end a six-year war between the two men that has left almost 400,000 dead.

“This is a major step but it’s just one point along what will be a very long journey to bringing South Sudan out of conflict,” Alan Boswell, a South Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told AFP.

“There is still a lot of scepticism among the South Sudanese that these two leaders will work together and not against each other.”

Machar’s swearing in came after much last-minute pressure, wrangling and compromise from both sides to meet the deadline to form the unity government under a September 2018 peace deal — which had already been postponed twice.

Both men received praise from regional and international partners for their willingness to make key compromises.

Kiir, for accepting to return to South Sudan’s 10 states after he unilaterally expanded the number to 32 — even though his plan to add three special administrative areas encompassing key oil fields threatened to derail talks.

And Machar, for accepting the protection of Kiir’s forces as a planned unified VIP protection force was not yet ready.

However both sides still have their own armies — as plans to train a 83,000-strong unified military have yet to come to fruition and some reforms under the peace deal have yet to be carried out.

“The security arrangements are a total mess. They have yet to graduate any forces into a joint unit. Both sides are keeping their main forces in reserve and there has been widespread recruitment,” Boswell said.

He said that with so many issues on the table, and potential for future disagreement, if not handled properly, the situation could “easily slip out of control.”

– ‘Real power sharing’ –

Luuk van der Vondervoort, a South Sudan expert with the European Institute of Peace, said the key question was whether there would be a real unity government with acceptable power sharing.

“The last time around that was not the case.”

The rivals started out as president and deputy at independence in 2011 but Kiir sacked Machar in 2013 and later accused him of attempting a coup against him, sparking a war marked by ethnic bloodshed between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer communities.

A 2015 peace deal brought Machar back as vice president and he returned to Juba with his own private militia.

When the government hit a deadlock, tensions escalated and clashes between Machar’s troops and Kiir’s plunged the country back into war.

Van der Vondervoort said continued international pressure would be key.

“We need to be mindful of the fact that, despite all the public images and rhetoric around forgiveness and reconciliation and hugs and smiles, this agreement came about as a result of sustained pressure from the region and the United States.”

While Machar and four other vice presidents have been sworn in, haggling is now under way over a 35-minister cabinet and other government positions.

Nevertheless, observers see signs of hope, in the apparent willingness to compromise by the two men who are both blamed by the UN for overseeing horrendous crimes during the war.

“So far we don’t know what will happen because Dr Riek has not yet gone to his office and he has not yet begun to embark on his work … but if they continue with the compromises then we will see good things happen,” said Abraham Kuol Nyoun, an assistant professor of political science at the University Of Juba.

The war has seen four million flee their homes and around 190,000 people are still cowering in UN protection sites (POCs) around the country to scared to go home.

“They are there making power-sharing, getting their share on the table, but we the civilians … we really need peace so that we can go to our homes,” Tech Chan, who lives in one of the sites in Juba, told AFP.

Away from the political haggling in Juba, more than half of the population is facing severe hunger this year, villages and towns have been shattered by brutal ethnic conflict and Boswell said the country “will take generations to repair.”

“Trying to create a national identity again and national forgiveness will take a very, very long time,” he said, adding that the country’s leaders needed to convince the population that nine years after independence “South Sudan can work and is viable moving forward.”

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