The May 17 South Sudan peace talks in Addis Ababa enter another phase of uncertainty after the US threatened to suspend funding for the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), saying President Salva Kiir and his allies are unable and unwilling to end the five-year civil war in the country.
The US is particularly upset by the promotion of Jok Riak, who has been linked to corruption, as army chief of staff.
“The promotion of UN-sanctioned individuals to senior government positions, such as Jok Riak to Chief of Defence Forces, demonstrates the South Sudanese government’s disdain for international norms,” notes a statement from the US State Department.
Washington’s position threatens the upcoming peace talks, but the South Sudan ambassador to Ethiopia James Morgan, says that the government delegation will attend despite its displeasure at the US’s criticism.
Juba has announced that it is going to hold elections if the third phase of the peace talks fail.
However, the US is against any unilateral effort of the current government to extend its power through “sham elections, the legislature, or continued military offensives.”
“The government of South Sudan has lost credibility and the US is losing patience. The people of South Sudan deserve a government that is able and willing to lead the country to a stable future,” said the Trump administration.
But according to Juba, the US has shown that it is only interested in regime change by insisting on an agreement dictated by the Troika — US, UK and Norway — who are the key funders of the peace talks.
“The White House statement repeats the position that Washington has advanced over the past few years…. It is a naked direct interference with the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” notes Juba.
However, President Kiir finds himself in a dilemma since his term expired in 2015 and he has been resisting the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement which comes to an end in October.
The United Nations Security Council has also passed a resolution for a possible renewal of the mandate of the Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts on South Sudan to exert pressure on the warring factions to strike a peace deal.
Col Gabriel Lam, who is the deputy military spokesperson for the Dr Riek Machar rebel group, says that this is not the first time the US has threatened to withdraw funding for JMEC, but “hard talk cannot stop Juba regime from continuing to derail the peace talks.”
In March, the US State Department announced it would take measures against 15 South Sudan oil-related entities whose revenues have contributed to the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. A month earlier, the US imposed unilateral arms embargo against the Juba regime.
US accuses Juba and its leadership of jeopardising its partnership with Washington, pilfering the wealth of South Sudan, killing its own people, and of having repeatedly demonstrated its inability and unwillingness to live up to their commitments to end the country’s civil war.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that President Kiir’s administration is no longer inclusive and the forced exile of Dr Machar further demonstrates the regime’s cynical repudiation of the peace process.
The Inter-Governmental Authority of development Council of Ministers had in late March resolved that Dr Machar be released from house arrest and relocated to another country that does not share borders with South Sudan on condition that he renounces violence and does not undermine the peace talks.
But Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition says that he must be freed without conditions as per the Cessation of hostilities agreement on prisoners of war signed last December, otherwise he is not moving.
The UK Minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, said those who have violated the cessation of hostilities agreement must face consequences for their actions.
“We urge Igad to take immediate action in this regard, to leave the parties in no doubt of the region’s commitment to peace,” said Ms Baldwin.