South Sudan’s government and main rebel groups that had refused to sign a peace deal have inched closer to ending hostilities with a declaration to continue holding dialogue, a symbolic move that could help unify the country.
The groups issued a declaration on Monday after a meeting in Rome, in the Vatican, organised by a Catholic charity organisation.
President Kiir’s special envoy and former Foreign Minister Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin signed the declaration on behalf of the government while Gen Thomas Cirilo, Paul Malong and Pagan Amum amongst other members on behalf South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA), while Henry Odwar of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO), led by former Vice President Riek Machar, signed as a witness.
The armed groups, often called hold-out groups, had rejected the revitalised peace agreement signed in September 2018.
Paul Malong Awan and Thomas Cirillo are former army generals who used to be loyal to Kiir before they fell out in 2017.
Malong is under sanctions by the US for fuelling conflict in South Sudan. He had had initially been under house arrest before he left the country, staying in Kenya and Uganda at different times.
Thomas Cirillo is heading the National Salvation Front, while Paul Malong is the chair of South Sudan United Front, both which refused to sign the 2018 agreement.
The declaration on Monday, they said, means they were ending hostilities and were ready to advance their talks towards joining South Sudan peace process.
The revitalised peace agreement, ARCSS, was supposed to lead to a transitional government of national unity by May last year, but stakeholders failed to agree on formation, postponing it twice. It is supposed to be in place by February 22, according to the new deadline.
The Monday declaration was organised by Sant’Egidio Catholic community between the non-signatories to the peace agreement and the government in persuade of hold-out groups to join the peace process . It began Friday last week.
In a statement, both non-signatories to the peace deal and the government agreed on having continuous dialogue amongst them towards ending the 5 years conflict in South Sudan.
“Solemnly, we declare to commit/recommit and adhere to cessation of hostilities agreement of December 2017 to avoid any further armed confrontation across the country and non-signatories so as to create a conducive environment for dialogue to resolve the conflict. This come into effective on the 15th of January 2020 00:00 hours,” read the joint statement.
The statement stated that the government and the hold-out groups agreed to abide by the declaration.
“South Sudan requires a comprehensive political engagement in order to achieve inclusivity and sustainable peace with the non-signatories to the R-ARCSS. In regards to this, we agreed that the dialogue shall continue under the auspices of Sant’Egidio in consultation with Igad” added the statement.
NAS argues that the 2018 revitalised peace agreement does not address the root causes of the conflict, and that his movement is “not after positions.”
Igad, however, rejected reopening the whole agreement for re-negotiations after its signing in September last year.
On the other hand, Malong demanded participation in the negotiations of the peace talks last year but was denied the opportunity by the mediators.
He fell out with President Salva Kiir after being dismissed as the army chief of staff in 2017.