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S. Sudan fails to sign peace deal

Ole Tangen Jr. (Reuters, AFP)August 17, 2015

A representative of President Salva Kiir's government has signed a peace agreement with rebel leader Riek Machar in Addis Ababa but the president announced he needed two weeks to finalize the deal.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit
Image: Reuters

"We don't have any reservations on the ceasefire and therefore since we don't have any reservations on the ceasefire we have no reason to continue fighting," said rebel leader Riek Machar after the announcement. "What we will do is we will tell our troops to hold down, stay in their places and observe what we have signed," Machar added.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have been in talks in the Ethiopian capital since August 6. They were recently joined by the presidents of South Sudan's neighboring countries who along with the African Union have been pressuring the leaders to sign a lasting deal.

"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 finalize the peace agreement."

US Secretary of State John Kerry with South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit
US Secretary of State John Kerry with President Kiir. The US was one of the main countries pressuring the two rivals.Image: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

According to Reuters, the agreement was signed by rebel chief Riek Machar and Pagan Amum, the secretary-general of the ruling party, SPLM. After briefly shaking hands with Machar, President Salva Kiir watched the signing.

'A compromise deal'

The announcement of the delay came just hours before a deadline threatening international sanctions. It is unclear if the delay will affect the beginning of the sanctions.

Mediators had hoped that that the leaders would sign a "compromise document," covering issues such as power-sharing and the formation of a coalition government which some analysts speculate would have seen Machar return to government as vice president. Kiir forced Machar out of government in 2013, triggering a brutal civil was that has killed tens of thousands of people.

The talks were being mediated by the regional eight-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which includes the United Nations, African Union, China and a "troika" made up of Britain, Norway and the United States.

This is just the latest of a string of attempts to end the violence in South Sudan, which became its own country in 2011. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many seeking shelter in UN camps or in neighboring countries.

Seven previous ceasefires were broken, some within days or even hours of being signed.

A rivalry continues

There was some question over the past few days that an agreement could be reached before the deadline. President Kiir left the talks on Friday to fly back to Juba only to return to Addis on Sunday night. Talks went late into the night and continued on for most of the day on Monday.

As late as Sunday Kiir warned that he was not optimistic that a peace deal could be reached stating that he was only negotiating with the leader of a rebel movement that continues to fracture.

Rebel leader Riek Machar
Machar says there is not reason why Kiir has requested for more timeImage: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

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

Peter Gadet and other powerful commanders recently accused Machar of seeking power for himself and stated that they would not recognize any deal.

In an interview with DW, Peter Schumann, a former UN coordinator in southern Sudan, stated that no agreement will be workable unless the neighboring states and the members of IGAD are willing to hold both leaders to task. Something he is skeptical about.

"None of the IGAD or IGAD-plus actors are really willing to put political capital on the table and say that we will heavily interfere politically if the agreement, whatever it is, will be violated," said Schumann.

Schumann believes that mechanisms must be in place in the agreement that automatically trigger penalties such as sanctions if one or both sides violate the agreement. He also questions the unity of Kiir's ruling party as the president fired four ministers from his party just prior to leaving for Addis Ababa.

"It seems that even in the SPLM, Salva Kiir's party, there is not a unity on how to approach the entire peace process," he added.