By AGGREY MUTAMBO
South Sudan’s peace pact monitoring team is proposing a stronger mandate for the regional protection force to ensure the revised agreement is implemented in full once signed.
In its latest proposal, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) says the situation in South Sudan, where armed groups have sprouted, will make it difficult for stakeholders to take part in the peace bid, unless their security is assured.
“The deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF), accompanied by the right mandate, is pivotal in ensuring the inclusive implementation of the peace agreement,” JMEC, chaired by former Botswana President Festus Mogae, says in its latest report.
The Commission says the RPF should be let to protect the entire South Sudan as opposed to the situation now where they mainly guard installations in Juba, in order to contain the armed groups terrorising civilians and violating the ceasefire agreements reached last year.
“The effective implementation of the revitalised peace implementation with full participation of all South Sudanese stakeholders can be realised, inter alia, by the security and safety to be provided by the RPF.”
Formed to monitor the peace agreement signed between President Salva Kiir and his nemesis Riek Machar, the Commission formed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) admits some portions of that agreement have collided with reality.
For example, while the deal was between two top adversaries, splinter groups have increased.
The most recently launched group is that by former South Sudan military chief Paul Malong, the South Sudan United Front.
Malong has staked claim on the negotiation table.
The main facilitators at Igad have yet to accommodate him, although a meeting scheduled for talks at the end of April was postponed to mid-May to allow for “shuttle diplomacy” between mediators and parties, according to a statement released by the Igad secretariat last week.
The RPF was formed in 2016 through a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) following violence in Juba that saw Dr Machar flee from his post as First Vice President.
According to UNSC Resolution 2304 of 2016, the RPF is to protect key facilities and routes in and out of Juba as well as secure the UN installations and personnel helping those displaced by the violence.
The UNSC allowed the RPF, numbering 4,000, “to use all necessary means, including undertaking robust action where necessary, and actively patrolling to accomplish the RPF mandate”.
The RPF is to be a part of the current UN Mission in South Sudan, sourced mainly from the Mission’s troop contributing countries, but with an extra mandate of combat.
Currently led by Rwanda’s Brig-Gen jean Mupenzi, the RPF includes soldiers from Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Known as the High-Level Revitalisation Forum, the talks which take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are supposed to revise the 2015 Agreement after it failed to end the violence.
Specifically, it is supposed to include all the warring parties, include more civil society groups and women, restore permanent ceasefire, implement the agreed deal in full and develop a realistic timeline from the transitional government to that formed through free and fair elections.
But the process has been affected by infighting.
For example, some opposition groups and the government accuse one another of armed attacks thus violating the ceasefire.
There are also questions on who should attend the event.
President Kiir does not want Dr Machar to take part in the talks and there is the problem of growing humanitarian crises.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha), the violence has displaced about 4.3 million within the country, 2.4 million to neighboring countries and 5.3 million have no food.
At least one million people are at risk of starvation.
The JMEC report covers the challenges faced between December last year and March this year even though the shelling began in December 2013.
The Commission says South Sudan is also facing a cash crunch, delaying any formation of structures necessary to return normalcy.
For example, high inflation and low revenues from oil (its main export) means it cannot gather MPs to pass relevant laws to create reconciliation teams, amend the laws on military structures and permanent legal bodies to punish culprits.
In addition, despite the agreement requiring all armed groups to declare their weapon stocks, troop numbers and lay down arms, both sides have been uncooperative, indicating further violence is possible.
First Published by The Nation