In a bid to end fighting which has lasted more than two years, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has re-appointed his arch-rival Riek Machar as vice president, returning the government to where it was before fighting began.
Mr. Kiir’s appointment of Mr. Machar is part of a peace deal that was reached in August. The deal also requires the formation of a transitional government; demilitarization of the capital, Juba, which has remained under government control with the assistance of Ugandan forces; and requires the government and rebels to share control over the nation’s oil fields, where fighting has been fiercest, according to The New York Times.
"It is welcome news because it is a step forward in the implementation of the peace agreement," Machar told Agence France-Presse from Ethiopia.“It means we are implementing the peace agreement as stipulated.”
It is not clear when Machar would return from exile in Ethiopia to take up his position in Juba, and join the president in a 30-month transitional government, leading to new elections.
"If I get the support needed for the implementation of security arrangements, I think within a few weeks I will be able to take up my position,” Marchar said, according to the Guardian.
Machar previously held the position until 2013, before Kiir dismissed him, accusing him of plotting a coup – a move that sparked a major crisis that has left thousands of people dead, displaced millions, and caused widespread hunger.
While the move signals a step towards achieving peace in the country, some analysts remain skeptical, warning that Kiir’s decree may help end the war between the two sides, but the violence would likely continue at the local level.
“On the face of it this is a positive gesture toward implementing the agreement, but whether this is going to be sufficient to bring about long-term advancement and stability has yet to be seen,” said Johnnie Carson, a veteran American diplomat specializing in Africa and now a senior adviser at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, according to the New York Times.
Much of the skepticism stems from suspicions that the two sides aren’t committed to achieving the peace process, after separate reports from the United Nations and the African Union implicated both leaders in the ethnic conflict that has killed thousands and displaced others.
The African Union report “listed five violations of a cease-fire agreement, including an episode in October in which government forces were responsible for the deaths of 50 people who died from suffocation after being placed inside a shipping container. Investigators said the rebels had looted United Nations barges and ambushed civilians, killing or wounding about a dozen people in an attack in December,” the Times reported.
Others have expressed doubts, citing the history of mistrust and broken pledges between Kiir and Machar. As the BBC reported, Kiir isn’t satisfied with the deal, including some of the power-sharing and security components, while Machar accused Kiir of undermining a fundamental pillar of its power-sharing clauses by nearly tripling the number of regional states.
Both Kiir and Machar are under intense diplomatic pressure, with the United Nations threatening additional sanctions if reconciliation is not reached soon.