UN envoy: Violence possible if South Sudan peace falters
In this photo dated Thursday, Jan. 1 2019, Government and opposition forces come together for one of many meetings aimed at building confidence for a peace deal between the opposing forces, in the town of Yambio, South Sudan, although the meeting deteriorated with both sides accused of recruiting forces and using child soldiers. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press
Published Friday, March 8, 2019 2:03PM EST
Last Updated Friday, March 8, 2019 2:42PM EST
The U.N. envoy for South Sudan on Friday urged all parties to the country's September peace agreement to maintain momentum to end a five-year conflict, warning that if peace efforts falter the African nation could again be engulfed in serious violence.
David Shearer told the Security Council there are just over two months left before the political transition called for in the agreement begins and "progress has been slow."
He pointed to "fundamental issues still to be resolved" including determining the number and borders of states, forming an armed force to be deployed in the capital Juba and major towns to provide security for returning opposition leaders, and drafting a new constitution.
"I want to stress: there is no Plan B. There is only Plan A -- this agreement -- and this path forward," Shearer said. "The cost of failure is unthinkable."
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after gaining its independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011. But it plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice-president who belongs to the Nuer people.
Fighting has killed almost 400,000 people, displaced over four million and left more than 7 million -- two-thirds of the population -- "severely food insecure" and in need of humanitarian aid.
Many peace agreements have failed, but since the September deal was signed, the previously warring parties have been trying to rebuild trust.
The transitional government is scheduled to take over on May 13, Shearer said, and the vice-presidents, including the First Vice-President Riek Machar, should have taken up their roles.
Shearer pointed to four positive changes since the September agreement: Opposition politicians are moving freely around Juba; over 70 meetings have been held across the country between the government and opposition; there has been a significant drop in levels of political violence; and people are expressing a willingness to return home for the first time in three years.
Though a relatively low number, he said, an estimated 135,000 refugees have already returned home.
Conversely, Shearer said the timetable set out in the September agreement "is well behind where it should be" and many bodies that have been established are dealing with procedural rather than substantive issues.
"The significant challenge now is to maintain the momentum of the peace process," Shearer said.
"A peace that falters will generate frustration, anger and a possible return to violence, that could equal that which occurred in 2013 and 2016," he warned. "We cannot allow that to happen."
Shearer urged the government, opposition, key outside parties and regional countries that brokered the September agreement to "drive the implementation forward and ensure it is adequately resourced."
It is critical "to make this agreement a reality for the sake of the people of South Sudan," he said, because "we are not going to get another chance at this."
South Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal said "peace implementation is progressing slowly but surely," national dialogues have started, and "the economy is already showing some early stages of recovery."
He told the council the slow pace of implementing the peace agreement is "due to inadequate funding," and he expressed hope that some international countries will help.
Malwal also urged the Security Council to join the regional group IGAD and the African Union "to convince those few opposition movements which opted out of signing the agreement to sign and join the peace process."