At peace talks on Tuesday, South Sudan’s president (pictured right) and rebel chief (pictured left) agreed a 60-day deadline to form a new transitional government, in a bid to end the country’s bloody civil war.
Fighting between government forces backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked deputy Riek Machar has already killed thousands of people and driven more than 1.3 million from their homes since December last year.
The leaders signed a second ceasefire agreement in May after a previous deal failed to hold, but this was violated just hours after it took effect.
On Tuesday, leaders from the Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD) - the East African bloc brokering peace talks – held discussions with both Kiir and Machar to push for an end to fighting ahead of negotiations on the formation of a transitional government.
“They (Kiir and Machar) agreed fully to commit themselves to the already signed agreements and to complete all negotiations within the coming 60 days and then establish a transitional government of national unity,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters after the meeting in Addis Ababa.
He said if the two sides fail to abide by the agreement they could face tough action, including the threat of sanctions – the first time South Sudan’s neighbours have issued such a warning, indicating growing frustration in a region increasingly concerned that the unrest may escalate into a broader regional conflict.
“If they don’t abide to this agreement, IGAD as an organisation will act to implement peace in South Sudan. On that, we have different options including sanctions and (other) punitive actions as well,” said Hailemariam, who is also current chair of the bloc.
"Any attempt to stand in the way of peace will have consequences," he added.
Delegates for Kiir and Machar have been meeting in luxury hotels in the Ethiopian capital since January, with both sides bickering over the agenda and even the venue of discussions.
Previous rounds of peace talks have made little progress and been repeatedly delayed, so far costing over 17 million dollars (12 million euros), IGAD officials said.
US envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth said Tuesday’s talks offered "the last, best chance for the warring parties to prove their commitment to holding their nation and their people together".
"The time for military action to change the status quo on the ground has passed. It's time now to move forward," Booth added, speaking at the summit opening.
Fighting erupted in South Sudan in December after months of tensions sparked by Kiir’s decision to fire longtime rival Machar from his post as deputy president. Deep ethnic divisions also have fuelled the violence, pitting Kiir’s Dinka people against Machar’s Nuer group.
Fears of a descent into genocide grew after the United Nations said the rebels had massacred hundreds of civilians in Bentiu in April. Residents of Bor, a predominantly Dinka town, attacked members of the Nuer ethnic group camped in a UN base soon afterwards.
The UN peacekeeping department has had to boost the number of troops and police and alter its mandate to make protecting civilians a top priority for the UN mission in South Sudan, known as UNMISS.
Last month, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said China planned to send a battalion of troops to join UNMISS, along with additional soldiers from Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya, who are expected to join the mission.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-11