If South Sudan’s belligerents ignore the latest deadline for a peace deal — just as they have done with numerous earlier deadlines — East African nations and the US may be forced to make good on repeated threats to punish those most responsible for the conflict.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar “must reach an agreement by August 17,” US President Barack Obama declared in his speech last week to the African Union.
“If they do not, I believe the international community must raise the costs of intransigence,” President Obama warned.
President Obama and East African heads of state face the possibility of having to show the world whether they will actually back that warning.
“I don’t think that anybody should have high expectations that this is going to yield a breakthrough,” a senior US official said in regard to talks leading to the August 17 deadline.
“The parties have shown themselves to be utterly indifferent to their country and their people,” the official added.
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Offering a background on Washington’s assessment of the 19-month-long conflict, the official accused Sudan of financing and arming Mr Machar’s forces.
Speaking to journalists as President Obama travelled from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, she called on Khartoum to halt its assistance to the rebels and become “part of a regional solution.”
The US could press for an international arms embargo on South Sudan if the current negotiations do not yield an agreement, she added.
Again, however, she presented a contrast between the warring parties, cautioning that an arms embargo is “more one-sided than two-sided.”
The implied consideration is that it would be harder to block the flow of weapons to Mr Machar’s insurgents than to President Kiir’s government.
President Obama, however, was equally critical of the two South Sudanese leaders in his remarks in Addis Ababa. Some of his aides have expressed frustration with President Kiir’s performance since the start of the war in late 2013.
The US is also said to be “disenchanted” with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) over its handling of the protracted peace talks.
Igad has set several deadlines for a deal, warned of negative consequences for the warring parties if the timetables are not observed, and then failed to act on its threats.
“By the end of 2014, the US was growing disenchanted with Igad,” the International Crisis Group said in a report last week.
“Proposals to provide greater support to and gain influence over Igad through high-level engagement were scuttled in Washington,” the report noted.
President Obama’s administration had wanted Igad to lead the push for peace.
That approach has not succeeded, however, and so Washington has become directly involved through an “Igad-Plus” mediation effort that also includes the African Union, European Union, United Nations, China, the UK and Norway.
“Igad-Plus is the last, best chance for peace in the near -term, and its success is critical to avoiding further deterioration in South Sudan and the region,” the International Crisis Group said.
Meanwhile, the regional mediation team on South Sudan and their international donors are now determined to impose a peace agreement on the warring parties after 19 months.
A source within Igad told The EastAfrican that the direct involvement of the Troika — the US, Norway and UK — has given the needed impetus to push the deal through without further delay. The parties are supposed to meet in Addis Ababa on August 5 and have a deal by August 17.
As a result, both the government side and the rebels have sprung into action since the Special Summit on South Sudan, where President Kiir convened a special meeting with the Cabinet and the Sudanese People Liberation Movement National Liberation Council last Wednesday to give their views on the proposed compromise deal.
Dr Machar also summoned a leadership council meeting in Addis Ababa on Thursday last week to discuss how the compromise agreement is likely to affect them.
President Obama in a meeting with regional leaders also noted that if the two parties don’t sign the deal, then the international community must raise the costs of intransigence as the world awaits the report of the AU Commission of Inquiry, because accountability for atrocities must be part of any lasting peace in Africa’s youngest nation.
South Sudan Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin complained that it was wrong for Obama and other regional leaders to discuss the future of South Sudan without the participation of the Juba government. The juba government has promised to lodge a special complain with Igad and AU.
Key features within The Proposed compromise Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan released on July 24, which are likely to raise contention include the demilitarisation of the capital Juba 25kms radius from the city centre within 72 hours after the signing of the agreement.
All foreign forces, except of four platoons of 65 soldiers each of the presidential guard, will be replaced by a neutral Transitional Third Party Security Unit (IGAD, AU or UNMISS).
Two to three battalions that shall maintain its presence in Juba and any other locations identified and agreed to by the Parties.
The unification of security forces will be completed within eighteen (18) months of the agreement, with the national army and security forces fully constituted, and unified under a single command, with priority shall be given to forces in Juba, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity States.
On transitional justice and accountability, the government of national unity upon inception is supposed to initiate legislation for the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and an independent hybrid judicial body, to be known as the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
The Court that will established through Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the transitional government, the African Union Commission and the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute individuals bearing the responsibility for violations of international law committed from 15 December 2013 through the end of the Transition Period.