South Sudan’s main opposition group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–In Opposition (SPLM-IO), is demanding the deployment of UN-mandated forces, before the formation of a transitional government of national unity due next month.
Speaking in Juba, the country's capital, on Friday, Angelina Teny the head of the SPLM-IO Defence committee said the party will not participate in the transitional government scheduled for February 22 unless there is a compromise to have a contingent of protection forces deployed.
The party led by former first Vice President Riek Machar is a demanding for what it calls assurances on safety, to have 4,000 troops sent “sensitive areas” of the country, as a shield against reversion to violence.
“The SPLM-IO has said we will form the government on February 22 and we did put forward the proposal to enable the formation of that government,” Angelina Teny told reporters in Juba
“On the critical issues of security, we came up with a compromise. We need to sit down and look at the deployment of troops in some areas until such a time that we can deliver the unified forces for the delivery of the security services.
“This is a very big compromise for us. For us, we see it like risk-taking because already, we see that the government has shown reluctance in the implementation of security arrangements and unification of forces,” Teny who is also wife of Dr Machar argued.
South Sudan already has 7,000 non-combat UN troops under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). But they are mostly only stationed in the capital Juba.
The demand for the protection force is not provided for in the current peace deal signed in September 2018 and known as the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).
An earlier agreement signed in August 2015, but which broke down had provided for a suggestion that regional countries send 4,000 troops known as the Regional Protection Forces or RPF to be temporary guards. It never materialised.
Ahead of the February 22 deadline though, main protagonists SPLM-IO and the government under Salva Kiir have been deadlocked on when to merge the militaries into one national army, and how to agree on the number of regional state boundaries.
SPLM-IO and other opposition groups argue lack of assurances on security for their leaders will scare them away from joining the government.
On Friday, Ms Teny also rebuked the mediators under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development for suggesting discussions on the number of states be continued well into the transitional government, for at least 90 days more.
“To us, they are automatically proposing an extension of the pre-transitional period. We felt that we want to make that clear so that we are not misunderstood,” she said, referring to the proposal announced on Thursday by South African Deputy President David Mabuza, after attending the Igad-led consultative forum in Juba.
“The legislative assembly cannot be formed without having the issue of the number of states.” SPLM-IO has instead proposed for a committee made of representatives from African countries in the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC), known as the C5 and members of the three main donors countries known as the Troika (Norway, UK and US) to deliberate on the issues within two weeks.
One of the key issues is how main installations like the airport, roads, delivery of humanitarian assistance and safeguarding of attacks on civilians and officials will be assured during the transitional period. SPLM-IO presumes soldiers from all sides will be in non-combat positions as they train for a merger into a professional army.
South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, following a conflict between President Kiir and his former vice president Machar, which has left at least 40,000 dead, five million displaced and two million flee to neighbouring countries, according to the UN.
A peace deal signed in 2015 collapsed after the outbreak of renewed violence in July 2016, forcing Machar to flee the capital.
Under the 2018 peace deal, Machar will take up one of the four vice presidency positions in the transitional government.
But the warring parties failed to form the transitional unity government twice. In November, in Uganda’s Entebbe, they agreed for an additional 100 days to form it.
That deadline is due on February 22.