One of Worst African Wars May Revive, South Sudan Rebels Say

(Bloomberg) -- South Sudanese rebels warned the nation could plunge again into all-out civil war if there isn’t a six-month delay to properly prepare a power-sharing government that seeks to end one of Africa’s worst conflicts.

Warring sides are due to form a transitional government in May, the latest deal to end five years of bloodshed that’s claimed almost 400,000 lives. But the largest rebel group, led by ex-Vice President Riek Machar, is demanding more time to integrate its fighters into the army and settle disputes over state boundaries. President Salva Kiir is urging his former deputy to immediately return to South Sudan’s capital to join the new administration.

One of Worst African Wars May Revive, South Sudan Rebels Say

“We are definitely not going to be part of any rash government,” the deputy chairman of Machar’s group, Henry Odwar, said in an interview Tuesday in the capital, Juba. “If we don’t implement the security arrangements, then we are likely to have a government of national unity with two armies and this is a recipe for disaster like what happened in 2016,” when a previous deal collapsed.

‘Holding Hostage’

Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny accused Machar’s rebels of holding the peace process hostage and said all the other signatories to the deal are ready to participate. The conflict in the country with sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves has its roots in Kiir and Machar’s rivalry, and the failure of their prior peace bid almost three years ago spread violence to previously quiet regions.

More than 4 million people have been uprooted, while aid groups warn that severe food shortages may threaten over half of the East African nation’s roughly 12 million population in the coming months.

Machar’s rebels accuse Kiir’s government of not respecting the timetable set in a September peace accord mediated by countries in the region, which includes prescribing a study of South Sudan’s current composition of 32 states, a number they want reduced. Odwar also said authorities haven’t provided adequate funds to enact new security arrangements.

“The government is intransigent in not wanting peace, because by not implementing the agreement, they don’t want peace,” he said. “And what is the other option - violence?”

Worse Alternative

“If the extension is not agreed to, the peace guarantors have to come in, rein in the principals and let the principals come up with a way forward, because the alternative is worse,” Odwar said.

Ateny dismissed the criticisms and said the transitional administration would be formed on May 12. “The other stakeholders want the government to be formed on time,” he said by phone. “Let us wait to see, because they cannot hold the whole process hostage.”

For Alan Boswell, a researcher with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the situation is now “effectively, a fragile cease-fire awaiting a finished peace deal.”

“A delay is more sensible than other options,” he said. “No one should want a repeat of the 2016 scenario, when international pressure forced the two sides back together in Juba.”

But he warned that further mediation is needed.

“Until Salva Kiir and Riek Machar strike more deals on a path forward, the peace deal will keep spinning its wheels,” he said. “In six months, South Sudan may be stuck in the same spot.”

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