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South Sudan

African Union must act to stop South Sudan violence, says civil society

Member of the rebel SPLM-IO group walks near his base in Thonyor, Leer county on 11 April 2017.
Member of the rebel SPLM-IO group walks near his base in Thonyor, Leer county on 11 April 2017. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/AFP

Civil society leaders from South Sudan travelled to Addis Ababa this week to meet with the new African Union chief and demand a more concerted effort to stop fighting in the world’s youngest nation. A specific high level summit on South Sudan is needed to find a political solution to end the civil war, according to Edmund Yakani, the Executive Director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation.

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“The situation in the country right now is getting worse on a daily basis,” Yakani told RFI by telephone from the Ethiopian capital following a meeting with the African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat.

“We're asking Faki to renew the commitment of the AU to the signed peace agreement in terms of securing stability and peace in South Sudan,” said Yakani, who travelled alongside Peter Biar Ajak of the South Sudan Young Leaders' Forum and Bishop Enock Tombe from Rejaf diocese.

The civil society leaders want the regional bloc to host a meeting of African leaders to try and “open up new thinking around political settlement of the South Sudan crisis", said Yakani.

South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The two rivals signed a peace deal in August 2015, committing to bringing an end to the war, but fighting has continued. Some 1.7 million people have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Office (OCHA).

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) bloc has been leading on mediation for the crisis, but civil society leaders are not happy with the progress.

“We realise that IGAD are divided in finding a solution to the political crisis in South Sudan,” said Yakani, describing a “weak” approach and saying that IGAD member states have their own “interests”.

The UN Security Council discussed South Sudan on Tuesday, however members are divided on the way forward. The US, backed by France and the UK, wants to impose an arms embargo, but Russia and China disagree, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

Civil society leader Yakani is supportive of an arms embargo and questions how Russia and China can be “comfortable” blocking such efforts. He specifically points to China’s role providing peacekeepers to the UN mission in the country as well as its investments in South Sudanese oil resources. Yakani describes their lack of support for restrictions on arms sales as contradictory.

There are also concerns that the command and control structures of armed groups in the country may have broken down. Botswana’s former president Festus Mogae on Friday issued a warning to government forces calling on them to “stop all offensive operations immediately”.

Mogae, who chairs the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commmission (JMEC), which was intended to oversee the peace agreement, said they had received reports that government forces had intensified operations in Kodok in Upper Nile State where some 25,000 people had been displaced in the last week.

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