South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has signed a peace deal with rebels after a threat of sanctions from the UN.He told those gathered for the signing ceremony in the capital, Juba, that he had “reservations” about how the mediation was conducted and some of the clauses in the compromise deal.Rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal last week but Mr Kiir refused.It is meant to end months of brutal civil war and will see Mr Machar return as vice-president.
Fighting between forces loyal to the two men over the last 20 months has forced more than 2.2 million people from their homes in the world’s youngest state, which broke away from Sudan in 2011.The United States welcomed the agreement but said that it did not “recognise any reservations” that President Kiir had highlighted at the signing ceremony.In a statement, the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that reaching a lasting peace would “require commitment and resolve from all parties to the conflict”.
The leaders of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, who all helped mediate the negotiations, witnessed the signing.One of the two generals who defected earlier this month from the rebel side has condemned the peace deal, saying it is “not for the whole of South Sudan”.”If they don’t listen to us, they’ll listen to the bullets,” General Gathoth Gatkuoth told the BBC, referring to both the government and the rebels.
As time passed and the temperature rose in the big, celebratory tent, the buzz of optimism started to wane.
Last-minute talks had been going on for hours – surely President Salva Kiir wouldn’t leave regional heads of state at the altar for the second time in 10 days?
The talking had been tough – the language of the leaders was strong.
When Kenya’s President Kenyatta said there was “no such thing as a perfect agreement”, it was clear it had been a tough day around a table.
People shouldn’t see “obstacles, but opportunity and hope,” he added.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni called South Sudan’s struggle for independence a just war, but that this was “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
And then in a long, slow speech, pausing regularly to remove his glasses and wipe his face, it wasn’t quite clear if President Kiir was going to sign the deal or not.
In the end he did, but any moment of statesmanship was lost in a piece of theatre.
He finally said he would sign only if the heads of state initialled a long list of reservations – which he then proceeded to do while photocopies of the list were handed out to the audience.
The regional leaders declined, but the signing went ahead. With renegade generals not signing up to the deal and much picking still to be done over the detail, there’s little here that would make the 1.6 million displaced people in South Sudan rush home.