South Sudan claims civil war is over but skepticism abounds



NYAL: South Sudan’s government claims the shattering five-year civil war is finally over, but there is considerable skepticism. It wasn’t helped by the sight of President Salva Kiir refusing to shake the hand of rival Riek Machar after they signed a power-sharing deal this month, according to video footage seen by The Associated Press.

This latest attempt at peace already shows cracks, with the armed opposition last week saying several key issues, including reconciliation, are yet to be resolved as the warring forces prepare to merge and Machar is set to return to the capital as Kiir’s deputy once more.

Machar’s side won’t sign a final agreement that doesn’t ensure “accountability and justice and free and fair elections” at the end of the three-year transition period, chairman Mabior Garang de Mabior told AP.

Even as negotiations continue in Sudan, which has taken the lead in peace talks as it eyes South Sudan’s oil resources, the United States and many South Sudanese express deep concern that the fragile peace deal will end in violence as the previous one did in July 2016, with Machar fleeing his vice president post, and the country, on foot.

Now this East African nation, whose civil war along largely ethnic lines has created Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, nervously awaits the rebel leader’s return.

South Sudan’s government acknowledges that some issues remain but says the current deal is genuine.

“It is the end of the war and the beginning of a new era,” said Maal Maker Thiong, who works in the president’s office.

The civil war in the world’s youngest nation has killed tens of thousands of people and sent more than 2 million fleeing since the fighting erupted between supporters of Kiir and then-deputy Machar in December 2013, two years after the country won independence from Sudan. Half of the remaining population of roughly 12 million is near starvation, according to UN agencies.

The idea that the two men whose rivalry has caused so much destruction are now in charge of finding peace has alarmed some in the international community and on the ground.

“We are concerned that the arrangements agreed to date are not realistic or sustainable,” the US, Britain and Norway said in a statement this month.

“We have seen time again that power-sharing is a recipe for more conflict in South Sudan and that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are in fact obstacles to ending the war and not vehicles for resolving the conflict,” said Payton Knopf, a former coordinator of the UN panel of experts on South Sudan and former US diplomat.