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Peace Activists: Hopes Shrinking for South Sudan Truce

FILE - In thisApril 29, 2016 file photo, South Sudan's then-First Vice President Riek Machar, left, looks across at President Salva Kiir, right, as the two sit to be photographed following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan.

With just about 24 hours left before South Sudan's peace negotiations end in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, activists say their hopes for a lasting truce are rapidly diminishing.

A coalition of civil society activists known as Task Force for the Revitalization Forum issued a statement Thursday asking the warring parties to put aside their individual and political ambitions, and act with honesty and integrity to ensure progress at the two-week-long negotiations about how to end violence in South Sudan.

''Today, our country is at a crossroad and millions of our citizens are counting on you once again. They are counting on nationalistic decisions you will take here today, to save human lives, restore the dignity of women and children, give young people a chance to dream limitlessly,'' the statement read.

Article 7 of a proposal on the revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity suggested four vice presidents in South Sudan during a 36-month transitional period to supervise the implementation of reforms outlined in the agreement to revive the collapsed 2015 peace deal.

Rajab Mohandis, who represents the civil society task force at the talks, said the leaders of the warring parties are interested in positions. "We have been telling them repeatedly that the discussions should be people focused and not power focused,'' he said.

Malual Bol Kiir is a member of the U.N. secretary-general's advisory on the panel of experts on Youth Peace and Security. He said South Sudanese youth at the high-level forum are disappointed that the parties are not working to address the root causes of the conflict.

"They are dwelling so much on positions, the number of positions, whether there will be five or four vice presidents, that is not the problem; what needs to be addressed are the concerns, what led us to the conflict, how should we address those issues. Because even if you give them the four vice presidents, or you give them those top positions, still nothing will change," said Kiir.

He said the status quo will remain and South Sudanese leaders will build more power centers. "Because four vice presidents need four more power centers being built in the country. And the reason why we have a lot of issues in South Sudan is because we have a lot of power centers," he said.

The Civil Society, Youth and Women's Coalition appealed to South Sudanese leaders to hold joint media briefings and send messages of hope to the people in South Sudan yearning for peace.

Mohandis said the various South Sudanese leaders gathered in Addis Ababa are not able to agree on how to share power. "The sticking issues are around issues of power sharing and transitional security arrangement," he said.

Delegates at the talks are expected to sign a revived version of the collapsed South Sudan 2015 peace deal on Saturday. The revised deal is expected to permanently address pending issues that sparked fighting in Juba in July 2016 between President Salva Kiir's guards and forces loyal to former first vice president Riek Machar.

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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.