JUBA - A workshop to discuss the recent ceasefire in South Sudan and work out the details on how security will be maintained in the country during a 30-month transitional period, has been postponed, the South Sudan government said Friday.
Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters in Juba that regional bloc IGAD, which was supposed to moderate the workshop, told the government in an email that, "Due to delays of the participants list and logistical problems, we are forced to push back the workshop.”
The workshop was scheduled to begin on Saturday and run until Monday. IGAD said in the email, which Makuei showed to reporters at a news conference in Juba, that a new date for the workshop will be announced as soon as possible.
Both the govenrment and Riek Machar's SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) insisted that they are not to blame for the delay.
Makuei said the government earlier this week sent IGAD the names of 11 officials who will attend the workshop. SPLM-IO foreign affairs secretary Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth told VOA his side has done the same.
But in letter sent by Machar to lead IGAD mediator for South Sudan, Seyoum Mesfin, the South Sudanese opposition leader requested that the workshop be delayed until after the main decision-making body of the SPLM, the National Liberation Council, had held a scheduled meeting on Sept. 10.
Makuei called on IGAD to rapidly set a new date for the workshop, saying it is a necessary step if the guns are to be silenced in South Sudan.
Provision of peace agreement
The workshop is one of the provisions of a peace deal signed last month by Machar for the SPLM-IO, Pagan Amum for the group of former political detainees, and by President Salva Kiir for the government.
The key topics of discussion at the workshop will be the drawdown of forces, the establishment of demilitarized zones, cantonment areas for troops from both sides, and the size of security forces that will be deployed in four towns, including the capital, Juba.
Makuei said there will be a committee at the workshop that will work on security arrangements and another that will discuss the ceasefire, which took effect last Saturday.
Both sides in South Sudan’s 20-month conflict have accused each other of violating the ceasefire. On Thursday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called President Kiir to express Washington’s concerns at the repeated ceasefire violations.
The U.S. State Department said Mr. Kiir assured Kerry that the government of South Sudan is committed to implementing the peace agreement and respecting the ceasefire.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed Friday by the head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ellen Margrethe Loj, by video link from Juba on developments in South Sudan since the signing of the peace deal.
Arms embargo and sanctions
Security Council president for the month of September, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, called after the briefing for all sides in South Sudan's conflict to adhere to the ceasefire "immediately and unconditionally."
Churkin said the Security Council is ready to "consider appropriate measures" to ensure that the peace agreement is fully implemented and the ceasefire respected. He said that those appropriate measures would include an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions.
Churkin said the Security Council also discussed the U.N. Mission in South Sudan and the need to bring its mandate in line with the peace deal.
He said the date for UNMISS's mandate to be renewed could be brought forward from November, but did not give any details.