By Deng Machol
Juba – the political violence in the world’s newest nation “has dropped dramatically” since last September’s peace agreement, David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan told reporters on Tuesday.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his political rival and former deputy Riek Machar signed the revitalized peace deal in September 2018 to end five – years conflict in the country.
Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Shearer said that many “positive things” have happened since the peace agreement, including several peace meetings around the country, and the integration of opposition and Government figures in the armed forces.
South Sudan’s opposition members once at war are now in the capital of Juba participating in the peace process “and it’s moving forward”, he said.
According to the UN Envoy, more than 15 “peace meetings” between the opposition, government and armed forces have taken place amicably across the country, and civilians in UN protected sites are starting to return home.
Despite the decrease in political violence, conflict is still ongoing, said Mr. Shearer, pointing to, among others, ethnic violence that has led to killings, and in the South of the country, where the fighters of Gen. Thomas Cirillo’s National Salvation Front have been involved in clashes with government forces and the SPLM – IO forces.
Shearer also expressed concern at a loss of momentum in the peace process, with recent meetings lacking substance or real outcomes, something he said the peace process might slow, further urged the international community to “speak as one voice,” sending the message that the peace process is the only game in South Sudan.
In the world, there were high hopes and expectations that South Sudan would have peace and stability after gaining its independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011.
But it plunged into civil war in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, his former vice president, started battling each other over power wrangling.
In the five years fighting, has killed almost 400 000 people, more than four million people have fled their homes, and almost two million are displaced within the country – in “dire need” of humanitarian aid.
Many peace agreements have failed, but since the September deal was signed, the previously warring parties have been trying to rebuild trust and confidence.
“If I look back four months ago, or five months ago, I would have said chances of being where we are today is unlikely – and we’re here,” Shearer said. “And what I’d like to be able to think is that in five months from now, we will be in a better and different place than we are now – along a positive road,” he said.
Since the Khartoum – broker peace deal was signed, there have been signs of stability, leading to the prospect of more people returning to their homes, according to the IOM report.
In spite that, there are still many issues to be resolved, including some fighting in the southern Equatoria region and political matters.
As the step toward the implementation of peace deal, on Tuesday, the parties have agreed to establish 25 cantonment sites for the SPLM-IO and SSOA forces in the country, whereas the portfolios in the government are also still being worked out, particularly with the opposition alliance of non-Machar groups.