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Main opposition group’s fallout from security mechanism threatens peace in South Sudan

By Ruot George and Simon Deng

A 2018 peace pact that ended active fighting in South Sudan and paved the path for the formation of a transitional government of national unity is facing its biggest threat ever after the main opposition group aborted security arrangement meetings.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, led by Dr. Riek Machar who is First Vice President in the transitional government of national unity aborted the meetings of the security mechanism which brings together all peace partners this week citing attacks on their areas of assembly.

On Thursday, clashes occurred between the armed wing of the group and the South Sudan People’s Défense forces.

“The ceasefire in the country is at the mercy of the SPLA-IO forces,” SSPDFspokesperson, Lul Ruai Koang told Juba Echo by phone on Thursday.

The clashes in Upper Nile occurred when the army’s base in Maiwut was attacked by forces of the SPLA-Io, he said, attributing the fighting to “a result of the decision of their representatives to the security mechanism to suspend participation in security meetings.”

The spokesperson of the SPLA-IO in Juba, Lam Paul Gabriel said attacks have also been ongoing on their bases in Unity State, attacks which he said peace monitors failed to address.

The “SSPDF has been using proxy war and has been attacking our base in Mirmir in Unity,” Gabriel told Juba Echo.

The two parties are the main partners in the peace implementation set in place by a 2018 peace agreement which ended six years of crisis in South Sudan.

The crisis which began in December 2013 left 400,000 people dead and displaced four million others.

It slashed crude production in the country and led to economic chaos.

A transitional government was formed in February 2020 and is expected to lead South Sudan to elections at the end in 2023, setting precedence for lasting peace, security and democracy in the country.

International communities and brokers of the peace pact are alarmed at the trajectory events have taken in the country.

“Incidents such as these and the resulting cycles of revenge attacks risk greater violence in the country,” the Troika countries, a consortium of the United States, United Kingdom, and Norway said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

“They also illustrate the destabilizing and pernicious effects of incentivized defections, as these are often followed by armed clashes between defectors and their former comrades in arms,” it said.

The Troika expressed concern over reported attacks against training centers and cantonment sites, which it said “betray a lack of political will to unify and graduate the necessary unified forces, and thereby threaten to undermine” the peace agreement.

The soldiers in cantonment, mainly from opposition groups, are being trained to be recruited into a national professional force of the country.

“We call on the government of South Sudan to exercise leadership and oversight of the nation’s security forces to maintain discipline and compliance with the peace agreement,” the Troika said while also regretting the the security mechanism meetings.

“With less than a year left of the transitional period, whole-hearted commitment is critical to get us past the finish line,” the Troika said.

“Unfortunately, recent events signal the opposite.  We are concerned that a continuation down the current path could lead to renewed bouts of fighting and suffering visited upon the people of South Sudan, who have already suffered two wars in their first decade of independence.”

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