South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told a high-level U.N. meeting on South Sudan Tuesday he is unwaveringly commited to a month-old peace deal for his country, and blamed Riek Machar's opposition group for repeated ceasefire violations.
In a video link from Juba, Mr. Kiir told the meeting in New York that he "will prove the doubting Thomases wrong" as he implements the peace agreement brokered by regional bloc IGAD.
But in the next breath, Mr. Kiir criticized the IGAD deal, calling it incomplete and noting that he had more than a dozen reservations with it when he signed the agreement last month.
"The agreement is intended to resolve the political challenges in South Sudan and to establish peace in the country," Mr. Kiir said.
"It is, therefore, unreasonable for the SPLM factions only to sign the agreement without the other 18 registered political parties” in South Sudan, the president said.
That contradicted what the government said during nearly two years of IGAD-brokered peace talks in Addis Ababa. Mr. Kiir’s government insisted at one stage of the talks that only its negotiators and representatives of Riek Machar’s opposition group should be at the negotiating table.
Playing blame game
Mr. Kiir also used his speech to the UN special meeting to blame Machar’s side for violating a month-old ceasefire on numerous occasions.
"In Upper Nile, they attacked our positions on the 18th of August. In Nhialdu, they attacked our positions on the 23rd of August. In Malakal... on the 28th and 29th of August," the president said, citing a partial list of alleged ceasefire violations.
But most of the dates mentioned by Mr. Kiir were before either he and Machar ordered their forces to lay down arms and observe a ceasefire. And some of the alleged ceasefire violations that Mr. Kiir mentioned were before the president signed the IGAD-Plus peace deal on August 26, nine days after Machar signed it.
The ceasefire took effect at midnight on August 29, three days after Mr. Kiir signed the peace deal. It has been violated since then, at least once by the government, according to a monitoring and verification team that is on the ground in South Sudan.
UN meeting garners support
The U.N. meeting was called to muster international support for South Sudan as the country's leaders work to implement the IGAD-Plus peace deal.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it is Mr. Kiir's responsibility to implement the deal.
"With the strong support and involvement and guarantees and determination to help you, I think it is your responsibility and your brother, you said, Riek Machar, and leaders of South Sudan to make your country put on a peaceful path," Ban said.
"I think it is your political and historic responsibility as the first president of South Sudan. And I really count on your strong leadership and vision for your country,” he said.
Opposition leader Machar outlined several challenges blocking peace in South Sudan but called on President Kiir to have the courage to overcome those difficulties and join him in trying to implement the IGAD deal.
You should understand that if you do meet your commitments and cooperate on behalf of the best interests of South Sudan, you will find many friends who are willing to help.Thomas Shannon, Counsellor to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
"I particularly call on my brother, President Salva Kiir, to get the necessary political will to implement the agreement in letter and spirit," Machar said.
"He must start by withdrawing the reservations he has placed on the agreement. The unity of our people is dependent on the implementation of this agreement," he said.
'History will judge'
The U.S. representative at the meeting, Thomas Shannon, said Mr. Kiir has a duty to put the words of the peace deal into action.
"History will judge you harshly if you do not. So will the international community and so will the citizens of your country," said Shannon.
"At the same time you should understand that if you do meet your commitments and cooperate on behalf of the best interests of South Sudan, you will find many friends who are willing to help."
Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat praised IGAD for its dogged perseverance in brokering a peace deal for South Sudan. Mahamat expressed disappointment in the warring sides’ apparent reluctance to implement the agreement
Speaking in French, Mahamat noted that the peace process took nearly two years, and said the entire world "thought that a baby born after two years would be able to walk. But now there are reasons to doubt that."
Some countries pledged more aid and reiterated their commitment to the U.N. peacekeeping effort in South Sudan, and several African nations spoke out against sanctions.
The United States, Canada, European Union and U.N. Security Council have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on a handful of South Sudanese military leaders who are seen as blocking the path to peace.
A U.N. move earlier this month to sanction more South Sudanese military officials was blocked by Russia and Angola.
Angola's Minister of External Relations, Georges Rebelo Chicoti, said at the special U.N. meeting that sanctions would "be counterproductive and would risk exacerbating the situation." He called instead for even greater international support for South Sudan and its peace process.