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South Sudan's Kiir: More Time Needed to Form Interim Government

FILE - In this photo dated June 21, 2018, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, left, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
FILE - In this photo dated June 21, 2018, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, left, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

South Sudan's warring parties will need more than a six-month extension approved last week before they can form a transitional government, says the country's president, Salva Kiir.

In his first public remarks since the parties agreed to the extension last week, the president also accused rebel leader Riek Machar's SPLM-IO (Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition) of recruiting new fighters.

Speaking in Juba Wednesday, President Kiir said he doubts the parties will implement all of the peace deal's security arrangements within the next half-year.

"If we cannot do them in the last eight months, what will make it to succeed this time around in six months?" Kiir said.

Sudan's government and its opponents were supposed to form a transitional unity government by May 12, but arrangements to assemble, train and unify the various armed forces into a national army are not even close to being completed.

Kiir wants year-long extension

Kiir said even with the extension, logistical challenges will prevent the parties from finishing security arrangements by November.

"I told my team that instead of six months let us call for one year because from May up to November, there will be rain still and you cannot move with a car to any location, but if it is one year the remaining six months will get us in the new year and these things can be done during that period and then we can form the government by April or May," he said.

Following last week's meeting, sponsored by the regional bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) in Ethiopia, the Kiir administration pledged $100 million to help fund security arrangements and other activities. Kiir said he agreed to the extension because he does not want a return to civil war.

"We will delay forming the government as per the request of Doctor Riek Machar and we will wait because we are not going back to war. We don't want war," said Kiir on Wednesday.

At the same event, Kiir accused Machar of continuing to recruit soldiers in violation of the peace agreement.

"He is now recruiting and this recruitment is prohibited in the (peace) agreement. If it is a matter of recruiting, it does not cost me much to also recruit. He thinks that he wants to recruit so that when he comes to Juba he comes with a lot of forces to push all of us out," said Kiir.

Accusation denied

SPLM-IO deputy chairman Henry Odwar denied Kiir's accusation.

"The SPLM-IO is not recruiting and we are observing the agreement in its strict form, in letter and spirit. We have what we call assembly areas, this is in accordance with the agreements," Odwar told South Sudan in Focus Wednesday.

President Kiir said delaying formation of the government will extend his stay in power because there will be no election to allow for a peaceful transition of power.

Lars Andersen, the Norwegian Ambassador to South Sudan recently said any delay in forming the new government should not affect the timing of democratic elections, scheduled for March 2022.

At the end of the two day IGAD meeting in Juba on Wednesday, IGAD's special envoy to South Sudan urged the parties to implement the remaining tasks without delay.

Extra time welcomed

Ismail Wais said the extension of the pre-transitional period will allow the parties to complete security arrangements and give the Independent Boundaries Commission extra time to work out the number of states and their boundaries.

He also urged IGAD's Council of Ministers to look into concerns raised by the SPLM-IO about the constitutional amendment process.

Augustino Njoroge, the interim head of Joint Monitoring Evaluation Commission (JMEC), which monitors implementation of the peace deal, said out of 59 tasks that were supposed to be implemented during the pre- transitional period, less than half were completed.

"Our focus should now fall squarely on the leadership of the parties to demonstrate clear political will and commitment to make sure that the security-related institutions and mechanisms of the agreement deliver. As resolved by the parties, the most critical determination for the formation of (transitional government) is the formation of forces," Njoroge told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.