World pressures South Sudan to end civil war by Sept. 1

The delay in reaching a peace deal is 'mind-boggling,' the chief mediator says, and Washington is threatening sanctions. Analysts say South Sudan's President Kiir has more to lose than the rebels. 

Mulugeta Ayene/AP
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar, center-left with back to camera, shakes hands with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, center-right wearing a black hat, after lengthy peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. President Kiir refused to sign a peace agreement Monday with rebel forces, saying he needs 15 days before he will sign, although Mr. Machar had signed the accord before Kiir refused.

With the government of South Sudan accusing rebels of new attacks Wednesday, the international community is in a last ditch effort to convince President Salva Kiir to agree to a peace deal by Sept. 1 and end one of the world's most destructive conflicts.

On Monday a peace deal to end the civil war seemed tantalizingly close as Mr. Kiir sat with rebel leader Riek Machar in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The power-sharing agreement on the table was backed by nearly every relevant player, including the United Nations, East African mediation group IGAD, the African Union, European Union, United States, China, and a host of influential local civil society groups.

Rebel leader Mr. Machar signed. But Kiir balked, saying he needed 15 more days.

Chief IGAD mediator Seyoum Mesfin Wednesday called Kiir’s delay “mind boggling,” though some analysts say the president has more to lose.

South Sudan's war largely pits Kiir's Dinka followers against Machar's Nuer allies. Over 18-months some 50,000 people have been killed and two million displaced in a conflict notorious for its brutality.

Best deal for rebels

For Machar, the IGAD Plus proposal, as it is known, that is coming out of Addis Ababa, is likely the best deal he could get, according to International Crisis Group researcher Casie Copeland. Not only will the deal on the table end the suffering of Nuer civilians who are currently under attack in Unity state, it would also give Machar a slot as vice-president.

But for Kiir, the agreement puts him at odds with important domestic constituents, including top general Paul Malong and the Dinka Council of Elders. They oppose power sharing and the demilitarization of the capital Juba, where the war began between rival army factions.

On Tuesday, government spokesperson Michael Makuei dismissed the deal as a "sell out."

"The government may not come back with any interest in a deal under any terms," Ms. Copeland says.

IGAD spokesperson Hailemichael Gebresellasie told the Monitor his organization is still planning on how to approach the government.

"We don't have a Plan B," he said. "We only have plan A – diplomatic efforts – for the time being."

Washington threatens sanctions

Uganda, Juba's closest ally, also seems stuck. It's military is fighting in South Sudan for Kiir's government forces and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni backed the IGAD Plus proposal. Yet shortly after Mr. Museveni left Addis Ababa Kiir turned the plan down.

"We just have to wait until [the South Sudanese] consult," Ugandan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sam Omara told the Monitor. "We don't think we can pressurize South Sudan because they know what they want."

The US, urged by influential Washington lobbyists, has taken a less relaxed approach by threatening sanctions against South Sudanese officials. Copeland says the US tactic risks pushing pro-government hardliners to more extreme positions.

Indeed, the South Sudan government now appears more rather than less intransigent. After scoring recent military victories in Unity, Kiir’s troops in the capital Juba are cracking down on internal dissent by shuttering newspapers, restricting movement of opposition politicians, and arresting officials willing to criticize.

If Kiir makes an about face and signs the deal by Sept. 1, questions still remain about whether the violence will end.

The government's military offensive is continuing in the Unity region even as Machar’s rebels are accused of taking the town of Pageri near the Uganda border.

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