The government and opposition in South Sudan are closing ranks after a group that opposed monitoring and verification mechanism agreed to a ceasefire.
The groups led by former Chief of General Staff Gen Paul Malong and former SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum have agreed to join the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.
This means that these two groups, which operate in Central and Western Equatoria, will provide details of their areas of operation, personnel contact persons, and continuous communication with the Ceasefire Mechanism about the maintenance of the ceasefire within two weeks from July 18.
The Community of Sant' Egidio, based in Rome, initiated talks in 2020 to incorporate the holdout groups into the September 2018 peace agreement, but progress has been slowed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Amum told The EastAfrican that significant progress had been made in Rome since his Real SPLM and Gen Malong's South Sudan United Front (SSUF) signed a memorandum of understanding to respect the cessation of hostilities and agreed on the agenda for future talks.
The latest agreement, however, excludes the larger group, the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Gen Thomas Cirillo, who had expelled Gen Malong and Mr Amum from the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) for holding separate talks with President Salva Kiir.
This means that Sant’ Egidio will continue with parallel negotiations and eventually come up with two agreements in the event that all those who rejected the peace agreement agree to fully respect the ceasefire and join the transitional government of national unity.
Gen Cirillo told The EastAfrican that the remaining SSOMA will not be subjected to the Ceasefire Mechanism for the time being but will join it as equals once they accept to be part of it after recommitting to 2017 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.
“First, we must reach an agreement on principle before recommitting to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which has unfortunately been violated several times by Juba,” said Gen Cirillo.
However, the Secretary-General of the Community of Sant’ Egidio Paolo Impagliazzo, said in a statement that there was a spirit of cooperation by representatives of the government and the holdouts at the just concluded round of talks.
“This round of talks is a step forward for the two factions to be fully included in the Ceasefire Mechanism. It’s a guarantee to reduce the violence and avoid any clashes between the parties. It gives a clear road map because we will soon open channels of communication,” said Mr Impagliazzo.
SSOMA was formed in February 2018 as a coalition of political parties and armed groups opposed to President Kiir. However, some of them, including Dr Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO broke away to sign the agreement, while others fought on.
Despite the split of SSOMA into two groups, South Sudan Minister for Presidential Affairs, Dr Benjamin Marial, who leads the government delegation is optimistic that the Sant' Egidio initiative is progressing well.