Regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), has endorsed the proposal to delay the formation of the South Sudan transitional unity government by six months, but warned that the pre-transition period extension is final.
Meeting in the South Sudanese capital of Juba on Wednesday, the Igad council of ministers, the bloc’s second most powerful organ, rejected the suggestion from President Salva Kiir that the government be formed in a year’s time.
The ministers said six months would be sufficient to address the pending issues that forced the postponement of the transitional government which was to be created on May 12.
“The council endorses the requests of the Parties to the R-ARCSS to extend the pre-transitional period for six months effective May 12, 2019,” the ministers said in a communique Thursday.
They also directed that “all steps necessary be taken to expedite the implementation of the pending tasks, within this extended non-renewable timeline.”
The stance of the ministers came after President Kiir proposed that six months was not enough to iron out the pending issues, and instead suggested that the timeline be extended to 12 months.
President Kiir proposal though contradicted his view last week where he had accused his co-principal Riek Machar of deliberately frustrating efforts to form a government of national unity, and warned he would go ahead and create one.
Known formally as the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), it was signed last year in August and followed with a number of ceasefire agreements in December.
The parties led by President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar had given themselves eight months to create the transitional government of national unity (TGoNU).
But ahead of the schedule, cracks emerged as parties squabbled over how and when to redraw regional state boundaries, how to merge the militaries and how to mop up guns and demilitarise civilian residential areas.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba told the Nation the stance of Kenya and peers was that further delays could dilute any peace deal benefits.
“In our meeting when we paid him a courtesy call the President (Salva Kiir) expressed his preference for a 12-month extension, but accepted the six months in the hope that much can be achieved with strong IGAD support and monitoring,” Mr Namwamba said.
“We cautioned that the 6-month extension must be a one-off, and exception to the norm rather than the rule. It is essential that we stick to the timelines and the targets in the implementation of the R-ARCSS in its fullness.”
The ministers say the 6-month window must not be misconstrued as a window “for renegotiation of any aspects of the peace agreement in its letter and spirit” but must be seen as a logistical opportunity “to get our act together” on the pending implementation milestones.
IGAD also placed responsibility in the hands of key principals; President Kiir and Riek Machar, meaning they will be answerable in cases of violations.
Dr Machar’s refusal to return to Juba over security reasons also frustrated any unity government formation.
On Wednesday, the Council of Ministers also lifted any travel restrictions on Riek Machar, which had been imposed on him after the first peace deal collapsed in June 2016.
In return, both Kiir and Machar were asked to allow ceasefire monitors free movement to check if the agreement was holding.
Once the TGoNU is formed, South Sudan is expected to hold General Election in 30 months.