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'Long Way' to Peace, South Sudan Rebel Chief Says

Days after signing a power-sharing deal with South Sudan President Salva Kiir (left), rebel chief Riek Machar (right) says there is still "a long way to go" before peace is restored.

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar said Tuesday the country is "a long way" from peace but insisted he is optimistic that he and President Salva Kiir will reach a deal to end more than 13 months of suffering in their young nation.

In an interview with South Sudan in Focus, Machar listed a number of issues that need to be settled before the two sides agree to lay down arms. He said chief among them was the make-up of the top tier of leadership in the transitional government of national unity.

"This is not yet determined," Machar said. "The government wants a structure which is headed by a president and and two vice presidents that are equal in status. The proposal that was given by IGAD is president, first vice president and vice president."

Machar said the two sides also don't see eye-to-eye on how power should be shared in the transitional government on other issues of federalism, security arrangements, governance reforms, accountability during the crisis, healing and institutional reform.

"So, we are a long way from signing a comprehensive peace agreement," he said.

Deadline for peace deal

Mr. Kiir and Machar are due to go back to Addis Ababa later this month to flesh out the power-sharing agreement they signed on Sunday. The East African bloc that brokered the deal, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), has given the two sides until March 5 to iron out their differences and come up with a lasting peace agreement.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Mr. Kiir and Machar to "place the interests of the civilian population above their own" as they work to restore peace. Ban expressed regret that the two men had been unable at the recently concluded talks in Addis Ababa to reach mutually acceptable power-sharing arrangements.

The United States had a muted response to the agreement struck in Addis Ababa. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it a partial agreement and said both sides must be ready to make "the necessary compromises to form a transitional government" when they resume talks in Addis Ababa later this month.

Machar insisted there is cause for optimism, even though so many other agreements before now have failed.

"We are committed to bringing about a peaceful settlement," he said. "Our people have suffered… They should be optimistic like we are that we should get peace through negotiations."

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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.