South Sudan’s foreign minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said there is a high probability that President Salva Kiir will sign a peace agreement Wednesday to end 20 months of civil war.
But, Benjamin added, his government still has major reservations, including the demand to demilitarize the capital, Juba, as well the granting of greater powers to rebels in the oil-rich Upper Nile region.
He said if Kiir is going to sign any agreement, it would be at the summit of East African leaders, which gets underway Wednesday in Juba. The leaders of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda are members of IGAD, the regional bloc that has been mediating an end to the war.
“We are having a summit of heads of state of IGAD countries chaired by President Salva [Kiir] and, of course, it has got to do with the issue of the peace process. You can only say that there could be a high probability of signing [the agreement],” said Benjamin.
During the most recent talks in Addis Ababa, rebel leader Riek Machar signed the agreement, but Kiir only initialed part of the text requesting two weeks to consult with his constituencies.
Benjamin said his government still has reservations about the deal, including the demand to demilitarize the capital, Juba.
“There is no country in the whole world that can remove its national army from the national capital, which is the seat of the sovereignty of that country, because the national government has got the responsibility to protect the citizens of that country,” Benjamin said.
He said, even if South Sudan were to agree to demilitarize Juba, it would it would need money to build new barracks and time to move the soldiers out of Juba.
UN threatens action
The U.N. Security Council is threatening to “act immediately” if Kiir does not sign the deal. The African Union has already called for sanctions and an arms embargo to be imposed if a deal is not signed.
Benjamin admitted the international community, particularly the United States, has been pressuring Kiir to sign the agreement.
“There’s lots of pressure, including pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and everybody. But, we are telling them that, ‘Yes, we will be able to sign, but give us time to consult with our constituency,’” Benjamin said.