South Sudan rebels sign peace deal on deadline day

South Sudan rebels sign peace deal on deadline day
South Sudan's warring rebels sign a peace agreement to end its civil war, but government says it needs 15 days to finalise deal.
4 min read
17 August, 2015
President Kiir initially said he would not attend talks [AFP]

The secretary-general of South Sudan's ruling party and rebels signed an agreement Monday committing them to peace but the government needs 15 more days to finalise a deal, the chief mediator said.

The agreement cames hours ahead of a deadline to avoid possible sanctions.

Top party official Pagan Amum and rebel chief Riek Machar signed a deal, but mediators said Amum was not representing the government. President Salva Kiir watched the signing, after briefly shaking hands with Machar.

"They (the government) have certain reservations" and have decided to go back home for consultations, chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin said. "In the next 15 days, the president will come back to Addis Ababa and finalise the peace agreement."

South Sudan's warring rivals have been locked in peace talks Monday in a bid to broker a deal to end 20 months of civil war, the last day to reach a deal to avoid possible sanctions.

President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar met alongside regional presidents in Ethiopia, under intense diplomatic pressure to sign a deal in the final hours before a Monday deadline ends.

African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma warned the failure to strike a deal "will have far reaching consequences for South Sudan, the region and the continent as a whole."

But Kiir, who arrived in Ethiopia late Sunday, said he had been "compelled" to join the talks, and warned it would not be possible to sign a lasting or full peace deal until all opposition factions could join the agreement.

"A peace that cannot be sustained cannot be signed," Kiir said Sunday. "If it is signed today and then tomorrow we go back to war, then what have we achieved?"

However, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appeared optimistic, saying after late night talks on Sunday they were "on course to strike a deal".

Key issues of disagreement include a power-sharing proposal between the government and rebels, which could see Machar return as vice-president.

Enough is enough
     Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 20-month civil war.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the civil war, and South Sudanese civil society groups on Monday pleaded for a "stoppage of bloodshed" and a deal to be struck.

"Enough is enough," a dozen groups said in a joint statement. "The people of South Sudan cannot raise another generation of South Sudanese children in civil war."

In a signal of the dire conditions on the ground, the number sheltering inside UN peacekeeper bases has risen by a third in just over a month to almost 200,000 civilians, the UN mission said Monday.

Kiir initially said he would not attend talks, complaining it was not possible to strike an effective deal because rebel forces have split.

Powerful rebel general Peter Gadet and other key commanders last week accused Machar of seeking power for himself, and said they would not recognise any deal agreed.

Ethnic massacres 

South Sudan's civil war erupted in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

The latest round of talks opened on 6 August, mediated by the regional eight-nation bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the United Nations, African Union, China and the "troika" of Britain, Norway and the United States.

As well as Kenyatta, regional leaders who have appeared at the talks include host Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has sent troops into South Sudan to back Kiir.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Djibouti leader Ismail Omar Guelleh were also present.

At least seven ceasefires have already been agreed and then shattered within days, if not hours in Africa's newest country, which broke away from Sudan in 2011.

Diplomats have warned any failure to sign a peace deal could trigger "serious consequences" for the rival leaders, including possible targeted sanctions and an arms embargo.

Marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, the war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. Recent attacks have included castration, burning people alive and tying children together before slitting their throats.

More than 70 percent of the country's 12 million people need aid, while 2.2 million people have fled their homes, the UN says, with areas on the brink of famine.