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South Sudan President signs with 'reservations'

August 26, 2015

Under threat of sanctions from the United Nations, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has signed a peace deal to end nearly two years of conflict with rebels. But he continued to express "serious reservations."

Südsudan Präsident Salva Kiir
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Dhil

At a public ceremony in South Sudan's capital Juba, President Salva Kiir has signed a peace deal with rebels. The agreement comes 20 months after fighting began between his supporters and those led by his former deputy Riek Machar. Machar signed the deal on August 17 but Kiir refused, saying it was unfair and unsustainable.

Speaking at the ceremony on Wednesday shortly before signing the agreement, Kiir said: "With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this document."

But he also added: "The current peace we are signing today has so many things we have to reject." Kiir was speaking at the ceremony witnessed by regional leaders, diplomats and journalists.

His comments do not bode well for South Sudan, which became the world's newest country when it broke away from Sudan in 2011. At least seven ceasefires have been signed and then broken within days. In the past weeks, the situation has become increasingly complicated with the recent splintering of rebel forces and several commanders breaking from Machar.

Kiir accused rebel forces of attacks on Wednesday, saying it showed the deal signed earlier by Machar was not being respected.

"It is showing that what we are doing here is not accepted by the other side," Kiir said. He added that he believed negotiations on the deal should continue. "It is not a Bible, it not the Koran, why should it not be revisited?" Kiir said.

'Necessary step'

The United States welcomed the signing of the agreement, but stressed that Washington does not recognize any reservations or addendums to the deal.

"The United States believes this is the necessary first step toward ending the conflict and rebuilding the country," National Security Advisor Susan Rice said.

"Now the hard work begins. Implementing this agreement will require commitment and resolve from all parties."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the move, saying it was a "critical" step and "that the road ahead will be difficult."

UN pressure

Kiir has been under intense pressure from the UN to both sign and implement the deal. A Security Council resolution drafted by the United States called for an arms embargo on South Sudan to be put in place against the government by September 6 if Kiir did not sign the peace deal, or if it was not carried out by both parties.

Under the agreement, Juba is to be demilitarized. The capital has been under government control with the assistance of Ugandan forces for months. The government and rebels are to share control over South Sudan's oil fields where fighting has been intense. The deal also outlines a process that would return Riek Machar to government as vice president.

As part of the deal, Ugandan troops are to leave the country within 45 days. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni commented on the conflict: "This was not a just war, it was an unjust war. It was a wrong war, at a wrong place, at a wrong time - and the sooner you finish it the better."

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who has hosted months of talks aimed at ending the war, said "This is the day the people of South Sudan have been waiting 20 months for."

A report to the UN had described a desperate situation in South Sudan. "The intensity and brutality of violence aimed at civilians is hitherto unseen, in what has been so far, without a doubt, an incredibly violent conflict, where civilians have been targeted by all parties to the conflict."

jm/jil (AFP, Reuters)