South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his vice president, Riek Machar, have agreed to resume talks about integrating their rival forces under a unified command after weeks of escalating conflict between the sides.
Kiir and Machar’s forces signed a peace agreement in 2018 that ended five years of civil war. But implementation has been slow and the opposing forces have clashed frequently over disagreements about how to share power.
Fighting has increased up in recent weeks. Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) suspended its participation in the peace deal’s oversight mechanisms on March 23, citing attacks by government forces.
At a signing ceremony on Sunday evening attended by a representative of neighbouring Sudan’s government, Kiir and Machar re-committed to the peace deal, agreeing to abide by a previous ceasefire and speed up the integration of their forces.
Opposition generals will be appointed to a unified command structure in the next week. The sides will then move on to graduating SPLM/A-IO soldiers from training centres to integrate them into the army.
“We must implement what we say. The people of South Sudan expect that from us,” said Martin Gama Abucha, an SPLM/A-IO representative, after the signing.
Tut Gatluak Manime, representing Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, thanked Sudan “for standing with us to prevent another escalation into war and supporting the implementation of the peace deal”.
Details remain to be worked out, including the precise ratio of pro-Kiir to pro-Machar troops in the unified army. A spokesperson for the SPLM/A-IO said the ratio would be somewhere between 55:45 and 60:40.
South Sudan’s civil war from 2013-2018, often fought along ethnic lines, claimed an estimated 400,000 lives, triggered a famine and created Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.