Rebel leader Riek Machar, center, shakes hands with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, in a black hat, after lengthy peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Aug. 17, 2015. (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)
NAIROBI — South Sudan’s president signed a peace deal Wednesday intended to end a 20-month-old civil war that has killed thousands in the wake of the country’s historic independence in 2011. President Salva Kiir signed the accord under massive pressure from the international community, which threatened to impose further sanctions if the deal was not completed before September. Rebel leader Riek Machar, Kiir’s former deputy, had signed the document one week earlier.
In signing the deal, Kiir alluded to the pressure he faced.
“There are two options,” he said Wednesday, “the option of an imposed peace or the option of continued war.”
Not long after becoming the world’s newest country, South Sudan devolved into a bitter conflict, mostly along ethnic lines. There have been numerous reports of children being killed or forced to fight, women being raped and dozens of mass killings.
A report by the United Nations earlier this week described how both sides had managed to supply themselves with arms and ammunition, “leading to large-scale violations of international humanitarian law.”
With the country flooded with weapons and tensions still strong, delivering on the promises of the peace agreement will prove to be a challenge. In the past, Kiir and Machar have agreed to several cease-fires — but each of them has been broken.
The deal allows for a power-sharing arrangement, which is likely to restore Machar to the position of vice president and permit the rebels to appoint two state governors.
Experts praised the role played by the United States and other members of the international community in bringing both sides to the negotiating table. The process appeared to be derailed last week, when Kiir missed the first deadline, prompting national security adviser Susan E. Rice to say, “The U.S. deplores this failure of leadership.”
The United States was intimately involved in South Sudan gaining independence, and it has provided millions in civilian aid and military assistance in the subsequent years. As South Sudan’s conflict simmered, the White House found itself trying to support one of the world’s poorest nations while trying to ensure that its funds were not being diverted to fuel the civil war. It imposed targeted sanctions, which many claim were effective.
“President Obama’s direct engagement with regional leaders during his trip to Africa in late July was essential in cultivating what had been missing so far in the negotiations — international leverage aimed at pressuring the warring parties toward peace,” said John Prendergast, founder of the Enough Project, a nonprofit organization that works in South Sudan.
Aside from the dead, about 2 million people have been left homeless since the conflict broke out in 2013.
The economy has suffered, too, despite South Sudan’s significant oil reserves. The country has a debt of more than $4 billion.
August 26, 2015
By Kevin Sief
Source: Washington Post