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South Sudan lawmakers extend Kiir's term, UN slaps sanctions

Sella Oneko Reuters/ AP
July 13, 2018

Lawmakers in Juba have voted to extend the term of President Kiir and the transitional parliament by three years. Meanwhile the UN has imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctioned two military officials.

A smiling Salva Kiir
Image: Reuters/T. Negeri

The UN Security Council on Friday, 13 July, slapped an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions on high-ranking military officials. The decision is seen as an attempt to put pressure on South Sudan's government and rebel factions to come to an agreement and end the longstanding civil war.

 At the same time, lawmakers in South Sudan passed a controversial bill to extend the mandate of President Salva Kiir, as well as the transitional parliament and local government, for three years. 

"It shows the regime is playing games at the negotiating table," Mabior Garang de Mabior, spokesman of Riek Machar's rebel group told the Reuters news agency, refering to the extension of the mandate. "The international community should not recognize this move and the regime should be declared as a rogue regime," he argued.

The move extends the current government's mandate until July 2021 and as Paul Youani Bonju, chairman of South Sudan's parliamentary information committee put it, it would bolster Kiir's team at the peace talks in neighboring Sudan. And while Machar's SPLM-IO is against the bill, other opposition groups in parliament backed the move. "If we don't [pass] it now, the international community will land on us that we are working illegally, so this one I really appreciated it," said opposition chief whip Gabriel Roricjur.  

South Sudan descended into civil war after Kiir accused Machar of trying to grab power. The two leaders and their respective factions had agreed on a short-lived power-sharing deal in which Kiir acted as president and Machar as his deputy. The agreement failed repeatedly and in mid-2016, Machar fled the country in the wake of fresh clashes between the army and his bodyguards in the capital Juba. This week, Machar's group rejected plans for a new power-sharing deal with Machar as vice president, due to past failures of such agreements. 

Read more: Confusion over power-sharing deal agreed by president, rebel leader

Breached ceasefire and UN arms embargo

The new bill comes at a time when arch-rivals Kiir and Machar have returned to the negotiating table for the first time in two years. In late June the two sides agreed on a ‘permanent ceasefire' and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to attend to the needs of the South Sudanese people who have suffered under the effects of the civil war. Both sides have accused each other of breaching that ceasefire since the signing of the peace deal.

Salva Kiir,  Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and Riek Machar jointly raise their hands in celebration of the peace deal
Salva Kiir (l.), Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and rebel leader Riek Machar (r.) lock hands after the signing of the peace dealImage: REUTERS

The UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" over the failure of South Sudan's leaders to end the fighting and uphold any peace agreement. A recent UN report said that government troops killed at least 232 civilians in a five-week period.

Following a visit in early July, Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, spoke of the accounts of atrocities that she had heard: "The testimonies I heard were horrific: men being systematically killed, the elderly and sick being burned alive, the genitals of young boys being mutilated or cut off, and women and girls being gang-raped – often to death."

Read more: South Sudan ceasefire deal violated within hours

No trust in the leadership

South Sudanese people view the latest talks between Kiir and Machar, as well as the extension of the government's mandate, with skepticism.

"The citizens need to elect who they really need to work for them," one Juba resident said. "Every country has its time limit for the president and if your time has elapsed then you can contest again."

Another resident expressed his disappointment over the inability of the lawmakers to wait for an outcome of the peace talks. "They should have waited until the government finishes the peace agreement, then the parliament can sit and come with clear years,” he said.

Since the outbreak of the civil war, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and some 4 million people displaced, many fleeing to neighboring countries.

Waakhe Simon Wudu contributed to this report.

Famine as a weapon in South Sudan