South Sudan rebel chief Riek Machar today refused to sign a final peace deal with the government, in a setback for a regional drive to end nearly five years of brutal civil war.
South Sudanese arch-foes President Salva Kiir and Machar have held weeks of talks in Khartoum in search of a comprehensive peace deal to end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions in the world’s youngest country since it erupted in December 2013.
The warring parties have already inked several agreements, including a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing deal that sees Machar returning as first vice president in the government, but on Tuesday the rebel leader refused to sign the final peace deal.
“The main South Sudanese opposition groups, including the SPLM-IO (Machar faction), refused to sign the final document demanding that their reservations be guaranteed in it,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed told reporters.
Officials said the rebel groups had differences over the functioning of a proposed transitional government, how many states the country should be divided into and on the writing of a new constitution.
“For the first time, the opposition told us that it will not sign,” Ahmed said, showing the draft text to reporters and diplomats who had gathered for what was expected to be a preliminary signing ceremony in the Sudanese capital.
The rebel groups’ refusal to ink the document has come as a setback to the latest peace push led by regional East Africa bloc IGAD.
“This is the final document which had been arrived at after consultations between all South Sudanese parties,” Ahmed said.
“South Sudan will not have peace unless these groups sign.” The Sudanese minister said the opposition’s refusal to sign spelt the end of the current Khartoum round of talks.
“This was the last round of negotiation,” Ahmed said, adding that the mediators will submit the text to IGAD, although it was unclear when the bloc’s leaders would meet to discuss it.
Earlier this month, Kiir and Machar signed a power-sharing deal that will see the rebel leader return to the government as the first of five vice presidents.
That accord was to pave the way for a final peace deal and the formation of a transitional government that will hold power until elections are held. -AFP