By Fred Oluoch
The South Sudan peace talks, which started on February 5 in Addis Ababa, have stalled after the government delegation objected to a clause calling for punitive measures against saboteurs of the peace process.
The issue of accountability has been the main thread among the mediators and the international community in this last attempt to bring peace to South Sudan because previous agreements have been violated within hours of signing.
The talks under the mediation of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) stalled on Thursday, after mediators and the opposition added to the clause that would allow the region and sponsors to impose punitive measures against individuals who violate the peace process.
The government of President Salva Kiir feels that it is being targeted for sanctions and cannot be treated equally with the rebels, as they have “a country to run and keep law and order.”
The main objection by the government delegation led by the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Martin Lomoru, is Article 28 in the agreement on Declaration of Principles, which will form the guidelines to the talks. It says, “Igad should take all necessary measures including those decided by the Igad heads of state and government in November 2014 against peace spoilers.”
The government delegation refused to sign the Declaration of Principles.
The Igad Heads of State Extraordinary Summit held in Addis Ababa in November 2014 heard that any violation of the cessation of the hostilities by any party will invite collective action by the region against those responsible for such violations. Such action includes asset freezes, travel bans within the region, denial of the supply of arms and ammunition, and any other material that could be used in war.
“Further, the Igad region shall, without further reference to the warring parties, take the necessary measures to directly intervene in South Sudan to protect life and restore peace and stability,” said a communique released after the summit.
But Igad has never applied these measures since the fighting started in 2013 due to vested economic and political interests of countries in the region that crept in as the war progressed.
Diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa said that the government delegation objected to insertions that the United Nations be allowed to punish individual spoilers which they believe is the agenda being pushed by Troika — the US, UK and Norway — who are the main sponsors of the South Sudan peace process.
Igad mediators were forced to form a sub-committee that will negotiate for a compromise as the talks continue in other areas such as the composition of the executive, parliament, security arrangements and the judicial reforms.
The UN and the US have come out strongly to push for the talks, officially known as the High Level Revitalisation Programme to review the stalled implementation of the 2015 South Sudan peace agreement.
The US and the UN have threatened strong sanctions against individuals. The US has already imposed sanctions against some generals across the board and imposed a unilateral arms embargo on South Sudan.
Signs that all was not well started on February 5 when the government delegation boycotted the first sitting because Igad mediators were admitting only 12 of their 50 delegates. The mediators later allowed all the government delegation on the second day to save the talks.
Earlier, Minister for Information Michael Makuei, who is also the government spokesperson, had stated that Juba will not accept the reconstitution of the government and the issue of two armies.
Once the negotiations resume, the delegates will discuss the effectiveness and composition of the Transitional Government of National Unity whose term ends in October, the composition of parliament, security arrangement and judicial reforms. The talks will end on February 16.
First Published by the East African