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South Sudan President Promises to End Suffering at Khartoum Talks

From right, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and rebel leader Riek Machar hold hands during a South Sudan peace meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, June 25, 2018.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir promised to stop the suffering of the South Sudanese people in remarks made at the start of another round of face-to-face talks with rebel leader Riek Machar on Monday, this time in Khartoum.

Kiir met Machar last week in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. No agreements came out of that meeting.

“I have mentioned many times before that I feel the suffering of our people directly because I stay with them. And I know the economy of our country. I know the market, and I see the pain in their faces. So, I have come to really bring this unnecessary war in our country to an immediate end,” Kiir said in Khartoum.

Power sharing

The disagreements are mainly about sharing power at national and state levels and an opposition proposal to dissolve the national assembly. The two leaders also disagreed over security arrangements, including the location of a demilitarized zone, the time frame on the reunification of forces, and details over the establishment of a national army.

But Kiir said he came to Khartoum ready to compromise.

“This is a very important commitment so that we get ourselves out of the shame this senseless internal conflict has put on us as the leaders of South Sudan and to allow our people to enjoy their hard-won independence in peace, unity and prosperity,” Kiir said.

President Yuweri Museveni of Uganda, who is in Khartoum to help mediate the talks, reiterated his commitment to work with leaders in the region to stop the conflict.

“This war is meaningless, and it will not bring any benefit to anybody. Not the people of South Sudan, not the neighbors, not the whole world. South Sudan was coming up. Business was booming, until we had this fighting in 2013,” he said.

'Brotherly efforts'

Kiir said he appreciates the role of Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and Ugandan president Museveni for their “brotherly efforts” to bring the war to an end in South Sudan.

Some political analysts in Juba said Kiir and Machar are unlikely to end the nearly five-year conflict.

Professor Simon Monoja at the University of Juba said both men want peace on their own terms, making it nearly impossible to move the peace process forward.

Monoja, a professor of social and economic studies, said the face-to-face meetings are a good gesture, but the failure of the leaders to reach a deal during last week’s meeting in Addis means people should not pin their hopes on Kiir and Machar for peace.

“It is going to be a complete failure, and it has already failed. The meeting was a failure. That is why they have to propose these other meetings in Khartoum and then in Nairobi and back to Addis. That indicates that actually the process is going to drag on and on. They will never decide because they want to have a situation of winner takes all,” Monoja told VOA radio program South Sudan in Focus.

Venue of little difference

Augustino Ting Mayai, a policy analyst at the Juba-based Sudd Institute,and a lecturer at the University of Juba’s Center for Peace, said changing the venue of the talks from Addis to Khartoum will not change the situation as long as there is an unwillingness to compromise.

“What is holding peace away from South Sudan is not the lack of understanding of what is happening but the fact that there is no willingness from the parties or even seriousness from the mediators. And that can still manifest itself even in Khartoum,” Mayai told South Sudan in Focus.

Monoja said if the talks continue to drag on, Machar and Kiir should step aside and allow a neutral government to be formed, which will hold free and fair elections.

“Both of them are now illegitimate in the eyes of the South Sudanese. The time of Salva Kiir is gone — it’s only being renewed by the parliament,” Monoja told VOA.

He called South Sudan’s government a “rubber stamp parliament” that “does not really” represent the people.

“And Riek Machar wants a gun [for power] so both of them can just defend each other now. I think they should have stepped down if they have the interest of the South Sudanese. But by force, the country is going to bleed into total oblivion,” Monoja added.

Outside pressure needed

Monoja said unless the international community pressures Kiir and Machar into reaching a deal, the direct talks will have no effect on the quest for peace in South Sudan.

About 2 million people have been internally displaced in South Sudan due to the nearly five-year conflict that erupted between government soldiers and rebel forces. Another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries since the war broke out in December 2013.

A fresh round of fighting erupted two years ago in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, between government forces and bodyguards loyal to Machar, who was Kiir’s former deputy.