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British Envoy Calls for Faster Implementation of South Sudan Peace Deal

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) shakes hands with opposition leader Riek Machar before their meeting in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 11, 2019.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) shakes hands with opposition leader Riek Machar before their meeting in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 11, 2019.

South Sudan's government and rebel groups need to make faster progress on implementing last year's peace deal, says Britain's ambassador to the country in an exclusive interview.

Speaking to VOA's South Sudan in Focus, Ambassador Christopher Trott said the parties that signed the agreement in September 2018 should create a unified army and resolve the stalemate over the number of states in the country before forming the long-awaited Transitional Government of National Unity by November 12.

Trott said he is disappointed that the parties which signed the peace agreement -- a "revitalized" version of a previous peace deal -- have not implemented all the key provisions.

“While we recognized absolutely a significant amount of progress has been achieved since the signing of the agreement... we have still not yet seen the creation of a national unified army, even a small number of troops," he said.

Trott was appointed in July to head Britain's mission in the country. Prior to his posting to South Sudan, Trott served as Britain's special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.

'Slow progress'

Trott expressed concerns over what he called "slow progress" in the execution of a security arrangement during South Sudan’s transitional period.

The parties to the peace agreement asked regional bloc IGAD for a six-month extension in May to allow for more time to implement contested provisions. Trott said that despite the extension, the parties have not settled the issues.

"We are still waiting for a discussion to take place around the number of states [in South Sudan] during the transitional period," said Trott.

President Salva Kiir increased the number of states in South Sudan from 10 to 28 in 2015, prompting angry reactions from many, including rebel leader Riek Machar, who wanted 21 states.

"We would expect the parties through a dialogue to come to an agreement amongst themselves into how much of what was anticipated in the peace agreement is actually delivered on in advance of November 12, and what could be perhaps left to be completed beyond the 12th of November when we have our new transitional government in place," said Trott.

South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013, in part due to long-simmering tensions between President Kiir and Machar, who was serving as his deputy.

President Kiir made remarks last month that he will form a new government of national unity with or without Machar by November 12.

Still, Trott remains hopeful South Sudan will make it peacefully through an envisioned three-year transitional period before elections in 2023.

"We can then put the economy on a more solid footing, we can ensure people start to see accountability and justice," Britain's top diplomat in Juba said.

The "troika" countries -- the United States, Britain and Norway -- have been putting pressure on Kiir's government, opposition parties and various armed groups to end violence in South Sudan, the world's youngest country.

Trott said the role of troika has been misunderstood by the South Sudanese. He said the troika wants an accountability mechanism set up during the transitional government to ensure durable solutions in the country.

The ambassador said the British government supports education and health projects in South Sudan, including Ebola preparedness and humanitarian relief programs.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.