President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar last week agreed to postpone the formation of a coalition government for 100 days. They had faced a Nov. 12 deadline but said security and governance issues needed to be resolved.
The State Department statement said that “their inability to achieve this basic demonstration of political will for the people of South Sudan calls into question their suitability to continue to lead the nation’s peace process.”
The U.S. said it will work bilaterally and with the international community to “take action against all those impeding South Sudan’s peace process.” That could mean more sanctions. South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the government understands the U.S. position and had wanted the coalition government formed on time.
“The president wasn't willing to extend until we realized the opposition was adamant to see the extension done or they'd go back to war,” Ateny asserted. Machar last month made an impassioned plea for an extension while a visiting United Nations Security Council delegation met with him and Kiir, saying that "Suppose we form a government on the 12th, you know what's going to happen? The ceasefire we've been enjoying for over a year will erupt.”
South Sudan’s civil war erupted in late 2013, just two years after the country’s independence from Sudan, when supporters of Kiir and Machar, then his deputy, clashed. A previous peace deal under which Machar returned as Kiir’s deputy fell apart amid fresh fighting in 2016 and Machar fled the country on foot.
South Sudan experts have warned that without a new approach, the current uneasy situation may well be the same when the 100-day period ends in February. The oil-rich country is slowly emerging from five years of fighting that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions. The fragile peace agreement signed in September 2018 has been riddled with delays and a lack of funding.
Pope Francis on Sunday called for South Sudan’s politicians to salvage the peace deal and announced he intends to visit the East African country in the coming year. In a striking gesture of concern earlier this year the pope knelt and kissed the feet of Kiir and Machar to encourage them to strengthen the faltering peace process.
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