South Sudan rivals embark on unity government

By Parach Mach

JUBA, South Sudan (AA) – South Sudan’s government and armed opposition have agreed on a unity government aimed at stemming the chaos which has engulfed the world’s youngest state for more than two-and-a-half years.

In a decree read on state-run television, President Salva Kiir dissolved the entire cabinet and appointed a 30-strong cabinet, drawn from representatives from rebel group, the state and other minor opposition political parties.

An August 2015 peace deal signed by Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar expands the government to 30 ministerial positions and parliament to 400 members.

This unity government will have to tackle security-sector reforms to end fighting, corruption and, in particular, pick up the pace on plans to set up a special African Union court to try war crimes suspects.

Presidential press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny told Anadolu Agency: “This is to reaffirm the parties’ commitment to end the war and achieve peace; it is a crucial step and we hope to resolve other outstanding issues in the unity government.”

Machar returned to the capital on Tuesday and was sworn in as first vice president, a role he held until 2013 when Kiir fired him for allegedly plotting a coup. A few months later, conflict erupted.

That war forced more than 2.4 million people to flee their homes and cut oil production by at least a third to about 160,000 barrels per day.

Whether the new government will be able to control the country remains to be seen.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, John Prendergast, founding director of the Enough Project NGO, said: “Competing factions of the ruling party have hijacked the state itself and are using its institutions along with deadly force to finance and fortify networks aimed at self-enrichment and maintaining or acquiring power.”

Kiir and Machar signed the peace pact in August under regional and international pressure mediation to form a unity government. Under this deal, rebel leader Machar will serve alongside Kiir in the new 30-month transitional period leading to elections in 2018.

The conflict tore open ethnic divisions and was characterized by horrific human rights abuses, including gang rape and murder.