South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his vice president, Riek Machar, have agreed to resume talks about integrating their rival forces under a unified command after weeks of escalating conflict.
Kiir and Machar’s forces signed a peace agreement in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war. But implementation has been slow and the opposing forces have clashed frequently over disagreements about how to share power.
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At a signing ceremony on Sunday evening, both parties recommitted to agreeing to abide by the previous ceasefire and speed up the integration of their forces. A representative of neighbouring Sudan’s government was also in attendance.
Fighting had increased in recent weeks after Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) suspended its participation in the peace deal’s oversight mechanisms on March 23, citing attacks by government forces.
In the coming week, opposition generals will be appointed to a unified command structure. The sides will then move on to graduating SPLM/A-IO soldiers from training centres to integrate them into the army.
“We must implement what we say. The people of South Sudan expect that from us,” said Martin Gama Abucha, an SPLM/A-IO representative, after the signing.
Tut Gatluak Manime, representing Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, thanked Sudan “for standing with us to prevent another escalation into war and supporting the implementation of the peace deal”.
Details remain to be worked out, including the precise ratio of pro-Kiir to pro-Machar troops in the unified army. A spokesperson for the SPLM/A-IO said the ratio would be somewhere between 55:45 and 60:40.
South Sudan’s civil war from 2013 to 2018, mostly fought along ethnic lines, killed an estimated 400,000 people, triggered a famine and led to a massive refugee crisis.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Norway – the troika supporting South Sudan’s peace deal – said recently they were concerned that the new outbreak of fighting threatened to undermine the government’s unity.