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January 23, 2014

South Sudan ‘Committed’ to Peace after Ceasefire Agreement

by Peter Clottey

The ceasefire agreement between South Sudan’s warring factions signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is a strong indication that President Salva Kiir and his government in Juba is committed to peace negotiations to resolve the country’s conflict, says Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s foreign minister.

Benjamin says the signing of the ceasefire agreement shows commitment that the government in Juba has embraced regional efforts to stop the violence and ensure peace in South Sudan.

He also says Mr. Kiir will keep his promise to pardon former vice president Riek Machar if his former deputy renounces violence.

“That is an offer and that is exactly the nature of our president. He has been actually pardoning and giving amnesty to all those militias who did a lot of damage to our country, so why not his former vice president who has been his vice president for eight years?” asked Benjamin. “He is willing to forgive as long as he stops this damage that Dr. Riek Machar is doing in terms of stopping the fighting.”

Representatives of South Sudan’s government and allies of former vice president Riek Machar signed a ceasefire agreement late Thursday night in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following weeks of regional and international pressure to do so.

Benjamin says the agreement shows the government’s willingness to end the conflict through dialogue. The negotiations were brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body.

“It sends a very strong signal that the government is committed to honoring the role that IGAD countries are playing in trying to resolve this crisis peacefully,” said Benjamin. “The government which has been saying that there must be peace in our country and that we can resolve our disputes through dialogue. So, it is a commitment of cessation of hostilities, [and] this is important because it will stop the suffering of our citizens.”

South Sudan’s violence erupted after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup.  Mr. Macher who is in hiding has denied the accusation. 

News reports say ethnic tensions between the two groups are partly fueling the conflict, with members of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups targeting each other. 

Benjamin says the agreement paves the way for a resolution over the political disagreement within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement that is blamed for the conflict.

“It falls within the principles, which were suggested by IGAD as the basis for resolving the crisis politically, and that is; cessation of hostilities without any conditions, the issue of the detainees, the unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance,” said Benjamin. “So now with the cessation of hostilities, we will move to see what happens with the humanitarian front of that, in this case the resettlement and support of all those thousands of people who have been displaced in their homes.”

Machar had previously refused to sign any deal unless those detained by the government for allegedly plotting to overthrow the administration are released. Benjamin says the signed agreement is a positive step.

“This agreement contains something of the issue of the detainees, and there is also a move forward in that direction,” said Benjamin. “So that gives a signal that political settlement of this issue is possible.”

Clottey interview with Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan foreign minister