JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Civil society activists say a move to exclude South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar from a regional peace process will ensure that South Sudan remains engulfed in war.
Ministers of the East African bloc IGAD said Monday that Machar will not be invited to the next meeting for the peace process, which is aimed at revitalizing a 2015 peace agreement between the rebels and South Sudanese government.
“We already agreed that the process, all opposition groups including Riek Machar’s ideas, the representatives of Riek Machar, can be involved in this process. For the time being, physically we are not inviting Riek Machar,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu said at the end of the ministers' meeting in South Sudan's capital, Juba.
Machar, a former South Sudanese vice president, currently lives in exile in South Africa, where he fled after an outbreak of violence in Juba in July 2016 killed nearly 300 people.
Talks could fail
South Sudanese activists said the IGAD decision not to invite Machar is wrong-headed, and throws into question whether the regional bloc is operating as a neutral entity.
Rajab Muhandis, executive director of the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, or SSuNDE, said any revitalization process that excludes certain parties to the agreement risks failure.
“It will be very challenging if the peace agreement that is going to be revitalized does not adequately include all the parties to the conflict. If half of the parties are included (and) others are not, there’s likelihood that those not involved may not have other options but violence as an option to find their way to the political process,” Muhandis told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Top leaders need to be included
Activist Jame David Kolok, executive director for the Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance, said excluding key leaders is not wise.
“If there are any avenues through which people like Dr. Machar are part of this process then this is a sign that this country is moving towards the path of stability,” Kolok told South Sudan in Focus. Those "people" would include former Sudanese foreign minister Lam Akol and renegade General Thomas Cirillo, he said.
More than four million South Sudanese have been displaced from their homes during a war triggered by violence between supporters of Machar and backers of President Salva Kiir in December 2013.
Key problems still to be addressed
Kolok said it is high time IGAD leaders renew efforts to restore calm in South Sudan and called IGAD resolutions passed on Monday nothing new.
“We have seen emphasis being made in regards to this country stopping the war, emphasis being made in terms of question of inclusivity, emphasis being made in terms of ensuring that there is respect for cease-fire. Unfortunately, time is going and these things are not being realized,” he said.
Muhandis said the resolutions from the IGAD Council of Ministers do not outline the key problems that need to be fixed.
“There are clear challenges to the implementation. There are clear causes which South Sudan is in crisis and we would love to see IGAD and its council of ministers coming out very clear to outline the issues,” Muhandis said.