Kiir, Machar differ on signing of deal

South Sudan’s warring leaders can’t quite agree whether they signed the peace agreement last week under the gun, or of their own volition.

Tuesday May 13 2014

Signing the Cessation of Hostilities treaty

Signing the Cessation of Hostilities treaty over the war in South Sudan on May 9, 2014 in Addis Ababa. President Salva Kiir says he and rebel leader Riek Machar were forced to sign the deal but DR Machar has denied the claims saying hey signed of their own free will. PHOTO | ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER AFP

JUBA, Monday

South Sudan’s warring leaders can’t quite agree whether they signed the peace agreement last week under the gun, or of their own volition.

President Salva Kiir says he and rebel leader Riek Machar were forced to sign the deal on Friday by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn who threatened to arrest them.

Dr Machar, on the other hand, denied the claims and said they signed of their own free will.

The truce, which was violated even before the ink with which they signed it had dried, was intended to end five months of violence in which both sides have been accused of the most appalling massacres, human rights abuses and other violations, including displacement of civilians.

“This matter has involved threats,” Mr Kiir said. “He (the Ethiopian PM and AU chairman) told Riek that you are not going if you don’t sign this (peace agreement). He told me the same in the morning. He told me ‘if you don’t sign this, I will arrest you here’”.

Mr Kiir made the revelation at the Juba International Airport soon after his arrival on Sunday. The revelation was greeted with jubilation.

“I said ‘if you arrest me in this good place, I am sure I will get good food. So there will be no need to return to Juba. You will feed me for free here,” Mr Kiir said.

In the end, Mr Hailemariam gave Dr Machar copies of the proposed peace deal, which the former South Sudan vice-president signed.

The papers were also handed over to Mr Kiir, who then handed them over to his negotiation team before signing.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to put pressure on both sides to arrive at a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The deal was to include formation of a transitional government and allowing immediate humanitarian access to the thousands of civilians displaced by the war.

Dr Machar had been opposed to the formation of a transitional government, saying, it would be useless without a programme of action and a new Constitution.

He had also made it clear that he could not see a possibility of a peace deal that would leave Mr Kiir at the presidential palace. He later bowed to international pressure and accepted to meet Mr Kiir in Addis Ababa, where the peace deal was signed on Friday.

The first meeting between the rivals came after Mr Kiir gave in to one of the key demands by Mr Machar’s group: the release of 11 political detainees arrested in connection with the coup plot in December.

However, Mr Kiir’s camp saw the inclusion of Dr Machar’s group in government as a reward for the rebellion.

Both sides face sanctions from the United States and the European Union if they fail to end the devastating conflict, which started as a power struggle in the ruling party but later turned violent.

The US has already sanctioned two military generals on both sides for impeding the peace process.

Those facing sanctions are Mr Peter Gatdet from the rebel side and Mariar Chanuong, Mr Kiir’s head of the presidential guards unit.

The deal also included humanitarian access corridors and the formation of a transitional government to run the country on an agreed upon program until the elections.

But two days after the signing, army spokesman accused rebels of violating the truce.

The rebels denied that they first attacked the government positions, but insisted that the army had attacked them on several fronts.

The claims are could not be independently verified.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has said that he and former vice president turned rebel Dr Riek Machar Teny, signed a peace deal on Friday in Addis Ababa to avoid threats of eminent arrest by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn.

The truce, which has so far been violated, was intended to end five months of deadly violence in which both sides have been accused of widespread human rights abuses and violations.

Mr Kiir said that after a lengthy meeting with Mr Machar, the PM came to him to say the ‘‘problem had become so tough’’.

“This matter has involved threats. He (PM) told Riek that you are not going if you don’t sign this,” Mr Kiir said, referring to a proposed peace deal.

“He told me the same in the morning. He told me that ‘if you don’t sign this, I will arrest you here’,” President Kiir explained the PM’s threats to a cheering crowd at Juba International airport upon his arrival in the country on Sunday.

“I said ‘if you arrest me in this good place, I am sure I will get good food. So there will be no need to return to Juba. You will feed me for free here,” he said.

In the end, Mr Kiir continued, the PM availed to Mr Riek Machar copies of the proposed peace deal, which he signed and were also handed over to Mr Kiir, who in turn asked for time to present them to his negotiation team before signing.

Mr Machar’s spokesman had earlier denied any face-face talks between the two principals as earlier demanded by United States Secretary of State John Kerry.

South Sudan descended into chaos after a failed December 15 coup which President Salva Kiir blamed on former Vice President Machar. Mr Machar denied the claims but quickly mobilised for a rebellion aimed at driving Mr Kiir out of the presidential palace.

Tens of thousands have been killed and several others uprooted from their homes since the fighting began.

The United Nations has warned that the country is at risk of a catastrophic famine if the displaced don’t return home to cultivate.

Several ceasefire deals have miserably staggered, and the Kiir-Machar deal was the latest such attempt to bring an end to the bloodshed.

The deal also included humanitarian access corridors and the formation of a transitional government to run the country on an agreed upon program until the elections.

But two days after the signing, Juba’s army spokesman accused rebels of violating the truce.

The rebels denied that they first attacked the government positions, but insisted that the army had attacked them in several fronts.

Fighting raged in the oil-producing state of Upper Nile, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang said, adding that government troops had been ordered “not to go and attack, but only to fight in self defence.”

Both sides have accused each other of launching ground attacks and artillery barrages against each other since the deal was signed.

Machar was “not in control of his forces” and heavily armed militia troops known as the White Army — who smear themselves in wood ash to ward off mosquitoes and as war-paint — had attacked government troops, Mr Manyang said.

“These are irregular forces, the White Army is armed civilians, and they do not know about the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed,” he added.

“They are the ones that attacked, because they think the war is still going on.”

Army spokesman Philip Aguer said that monitors from regional bloc IGAD were being sent to the flashpoint town of Bentiu, capital of the northern oil-producing Unity state, which has swapped hands repeatedly in the conflict.

“We are working on their deployment, so that they can observe the situation on the ground,” Aguer said.

Mr Kiir has insisted he wanted peace, telling crowds in Juba on Sunday that “we have ordered our forces not to lift a foot from where they are to attack rebels”.

The two sides had agreed to a ceasefire in January, but that deal quickly fell apart and unleashed a new round of fierce fighting.

Observers have said both sides will face challenges in implementing a truce, with the rebels made up of a loose coalition of army defectors and ethnic rebels.

Each side accuses the other of using mercenaries and rebel forces from neighbouring Sudan, while on the government side — backed by Ugandan troops — the command structure under Kiir is also seen as weak.

The war in the world’s youngest nation has claimed thousands — and possibly tens of thousands — of lives, with more than 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.

The conflict, which started as a personal rivalry between Kiir and Machar, has seen the army and communities divide along ethnic lines, pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay, a former head of the UN genocide court for Rwanda, has said she recognised “many of the precursors of genocide” listed in a UN report on atrocities that was released last week.

The United Nations food agency has also warned there is only a “small window of opportunity” to avert famine, and appealed for relief agencies — who have been subjected to armed attacks and looting — to be allowed unfettered access.

The war erupted on December 15 with Kiir accusing Machar of attempting a coup.

Machar then fled to the bush to launch a rebellion, insisting that the president had attempted to carry out a bloody purge of his rivals.

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