How Rome talks blew hot and cold in 2021

How Rome talks blew hot and cold in 2021
Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin (left) holds hands with Secretary-General of the Community of Sant’Egidio Paolo Impagliazzo (centre) and SSOMA’s Pagan Amum during a past Rome talk session (photo credit: courtesy)

As the year draws to a close, the Community of Saint’Egidio Rome peace initiative has remained one of the country’s carryover issues to 2022, though South Sudan and the world might have wanted the process to conclude by 2021.

The talks that began in 2019 between the government and the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance (SSOMA) have witnessed complex issues, dragging back about three years without reaching an agreement.

Despite the parties’ recommitment to the 2017 Cessation of Hostility (CoH) Agreement and the signing of the January 2020 Declaration of Principles, the parties have been trading accusations, blaming each other for the lack of adherence to the truce.

Besides, there has been internal conflict within SSOMA, comprising the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Gen. Thomas Cirilo, South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A) of Gen. Paul Malong Awan, the Real Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (R-SPLM) of Pagan Amum and Emmanuel Ajawin leader of National Democratic Movement–Patriotic Front (NDM-PF).

SSOMA acts                      

In October 2020, SSOMA split into two after a leaked statement alleging that Gen. Malong was secretly communicating with the government in Juba, resulting in suspension of SSUF/A by Gen. Cirilo but Amum objected.

“We held separate meetings with the Thomas Cirilo group and a number of points were discussed and initiated. And we held meetings with the Pagan and Malong groups, and the two parties confirmed their seriousness about achieving peace,” Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.

“The goal of the government is to hold talks with all movements that are still taking up arms against the government.”

Boycott of talks

Besides, in May 2021, SSOMA boycotted the talks, accusing the government’s security agents of killing its senior army commander, Gen. Abraham Wana Yoane in Uganda Capital, Kampala in April.

“SSOMA would like to inform its supporters, the people of South Sudan and the international community that we will not take part in the upcoming scheduled round of peace talks in Rome until further notice.”

“SSOMA’s suspension of participation in the talks is because of the cowardly act of assassination of its senior military member. The killing of Gen. Abraham bears the hallmarks of the elements and their assassins of South Sudan National Security,” SSOMA said in a statement in May.

Government acts   

The same action would then be employed by the government in September when President Kiir suspended the talks over protracted attacks along the Juba-Nimule highway that claimed a dozen of lives, including two Catholic nuns, and obstructed movements of people and goods as well.

“We decided to pause the ongoing Sant’Egidio led Rome peace initiative. Our pursuit for an inclusive peace should never be taken for weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent,” Kiir said. “The talks with SSOMA will only resume after they cease killing the innocent people and whose commitment to documents they have signed in Rome. It is only when they meet these conditions that genuine dialogue will resume.”

“We have signed the Rome Declaration and Rome Resolutions with SSOMA and the recommitment of the Cessation of Hostility in December 2017, and Declaration of Principle. The goal of signing that was to stop fighting and to save livelihoods. Those were our commitments to inclusivity,” the government further stated in a press statement.

Suspension lift

But while addressing the closing session of the governors’ forum last month, President Salva Kiir said despite the lack of positive response by the holdouts, he decided to lift the suspension and ordered the mediator—Community Sant’Egidio— to prepare for the negotiations.

“The quest for inclusive peace and stability in our country remains our priority.

 “In my recent speech to the joint session of parliament, I announced the halt of talks with the holdout groups. We took this decision [in protest of] the killing of innocent civilians on major roads and highways by elements from the South Sudan Movement Alliance (SSOMA). It was not because of our weakness.”

“What compelled us to suspend the talks was this killing that took place after we signed the cessation of hostility agreement and the declaration of principle with SSOMA. Now that they have refused to respect and comply with the agreement that we have signed, I will, despite the challenges, order the resumption of talks,” Kiir said.