How wrangles on forces deployment rocks peace deal boat

How wrangles on forces deployment rocks peace deal boat
The Necessary Unified Forces assembled at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum for their graduation on August 30, 2022. [Photo: courtesy].

South Sudan is nearly 12 months away from the December 2024 general elections but a brewing impasse over the deployment of graduated forces now threatens the completion of pending chapters to pave the way for voting.

The revitalized government of national unity closed shop in 2022 with the graduation of the first batch of the necessary unified forces and the extension of the terms of the peace deal for 24 months to allow the completion of the pending tasks. Such had included the deployment of the first cohort comprising about 50,000 personnel before training the next batch.

But this deployment of the forces has run into a stalemate over the differences between SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO over the distribution of the commands, with sources revealing that President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Dr Riek Machar are yet to agree on how to address the issue.

The spokesperson of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF), Maj. Gen. Lul Ruai, noted that the deployment was delayed because the opposition rejected the positions given to them in the unified command.

According to Lul, the deployment would have been completed if the opposition accepted the positions allotted to them.

This corroborates the account of the Director for Information and Public Relations in the office of the First Vice President, Puok Baluang, who argues the list of their commanders is ready but the process was derailed by a deadlock on the positions allocated to the opposition.

“The lists are ready from our side. But we cannot submit our names if we have not agreed on the departments or directorates in the unified forces that will be allocated to the SPLM-IO, SSOA, or SSPDF,” he noted.

Baluang accused the SSPDF of creating positions that were not agreed upon by the parties to the agreement, including a directorate in the police structure as well as another position of a deputy director for national security, all of which were given to the ruling party, the SPLM.

Puok said the issue had been left in the hands of the three principals of the peace agreement, who are President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the first Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny, and the Vice President for Service Cluster Hussein Abdelbagi Akol, to decide.

The impasse has prompted fierce criticism from the SPLM-IG members who are blaming their peace partners, SPLM-IO, of using the difference as delay tactics to frustrate electoral preparedness.

While addressing SPLM gatherings this week, Peter Lam, the SPLM secretary general, claimed President Kiir had waited for the list of the SPLM-IO commanders for five months now.

“As you all know, we have been waiting for nearly five months for SPLM-IO leadership to submit the names of their cadres (commanders) to be appointed, but there have been no updates,” Lam said, accusing the SPLM-IO of silently pushing for an extension.

Lam said the SPLM party would not tolerate further extension as expected by other parties.

The deployment of the forces is considered one of the most crucial steps to electoral preparedness. The First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, who heads the opposition SPLM-IO, proposed the need for the parties to the peace agreement to first address security concerns before voting.

Machar stated that the deployment of forces is imminent, but that security must be addressed first.

“According to the road map, the election should be on December 22, 2024. What about the security? Do you want me to vote with guns on my head? It will not be free voting,” Machar said when addressing the conference.

He expressed the need to implement the chapters that lead the country to an election before rushing.

“It is important for us to implement the requirement that should take us to the election because if we do not implement it, we will know what will happen,” he said. This came in succession with an evaluation report by the Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) Political Bureau that averred that little had been done to implement the pre-electoral tasks.

On the other hand, President Kiir, who is the SPLM chairperson, warned his deputies that there would be no further extension. They must all work towards an election.

“If my deputies are the ones who go and encourage people who talk about no elections, I can tell them that there is no extension of the agreement or roadmap,” Kiir said.