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South Sudan: We Need Peace Before Accountability

South Sudanese information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, shown here at a news conference in Addis Ababa last year, says South Sudan needs to restore peace before the alleged perpetrators of violence in the conflict can be held accountable.

A senior South Sudanese official has said a call by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to set up a legal system to try those responsible for human rights violations in South Sudan's conflict will harm the slow-moving peace process.

“The most appropriate situation would have been to work for peace first, bring peace and, after peace, then you make people accountable. Now, it seems that the Secretary is putting the cart before the horse,” Information Minister Michael Makuei said.

Makuei was reacting to a statement Kerry made to reporters in Nairobi on Monday, when the U.S. Secretary of State announced that the United States will contribute "...$5 million to support South Sudanese and international efforts to create a credible, impartial, and effective justice mechanism, such as a hybrid court, in order to hold perpetrators of violence to account."

The U.S. diplomat went on to say that, in 16 months of peace talks, "South Sudan’s leaders, both those officially in office and those contesting those who are in office, have not yet chosen to make the compromises needed for peace."

It seems that the Secretary (of State John Kerry) is putting the cart before the horse.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei

​President Salva Kiir and former vice president turned rebel leader Riek Machar held what was supposed to be the final round of peace talks for South Sudan in March. They failed to reach an agreement by the March 5 deadline, set by the talks' mediators, the regional bloc, IGAD. After the deadline had come and gone, IGAD said the peace process would continue, likely with a more robust international presence.

Peace process still viable

Makuei insisted that the peace process has not collapsed. “It is unfortunate that people are fast in reaching that conclusion and saying that the parties have failed to reach an agreement. If we had failed, we would have not been continuing talking. So, we have not failed to reach peace, but we are in the process,” he said.

He accused those in the international community who are insisting on a swift end to the conflict of having motives "other than bringing peace to South Sudan." He did not elaborate.

Makuei said Mr. Kiir's government is in search of a durable and lasting peace, and fully supports the peace negotiations. But he said “other institutions” are trying to impose some of their positions or opinions on IGAD and the African Union, and said parties to the peace talks, whom he did not name, are trying to isolate the government by pressing it "to reach peace by any possible means."

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