Kiir reactivates Rome talks

Kiir reactivates Rome talks
President Salva Kiir (photo credit: Presidential Press Unit)

President Salva Kiir has finally ordered the resumption of the Rome peace talks after he unilaterally suspended them in August over the Juba-Nimule highway attack.

“The quest for inclusive peace and stability in our country remains our priority,” the President remarked.

He added: “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. “

President Kiir said there were no tangible efforts from the holdout groups to consider the demands of the government for talks to resume. Nonetheless, he decided to resume the negotiations to ensure the country does not drag behind due to the stalemate.

“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,” said Kiir.

The president ordered the resumption of the talks during his closing remarks of the one-week Governors’ Forum at Freedom Hall in Juba on Monday.

Talks suspended                

It has been nearly four months since the talks were suspended.

The President had accused SSOMA, particularly forces loyal to army chief Gen. Thomas Cirilo’s National Salvation Front (NAS), of carrying out attacks along the country’s lifelines, killing, looting, and torching vehicles.

The groups have denied the accusations, saying the government halted the talks because of the lack of inclusive peace in South Sudan.

The NAS faction issued a rebuttal blaming government forces for the deadly highway attacks.

Since then, the regional and international communities, including the Community of Saint’Egidio, have been calling on the government to reconsider its position and resume the talks to end violence in Africa’s youngest nation.

In October, the Chairperson of Saint’Egidio, Paolo Impagliazzo, visited the country to convince the government so that the negotiations could start, but President Kiir maintained his position that the group had to commit to the ceasefire deal first.

He said unless SSOMA tells the government and people of South Sudan the reasons for their actions—that have claimed dozens of lives by hindering humanitarian delivery and the movement of people and goods freely—the talks would not resume.

“Talks with SSOMA will only resume after they cease killing innocent people and show their commitment to the documents they have signed in Rome.

“It is only when they meet these conditions that genuine dialogue will resume,” Kiir stressed at the inauguration of the first season of the parliament in September.

But yesterday, the president said he had taken upon himself the challenges given the country’s need for inclusive peace to lift the suspension and called on the mediator to prepare for the talks’ resumption.

Going to the table

He said he had received calls from many quarters, including the Vatican City, where Pope Francis had reached out to him to allow the resumption of talks. 

“Many voices have appealed to us to reconsider our position and give inclusivity a chance. Yes, because of this, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been consistently praying for South Sudan and has been appealing to me to let Rome talks resume. “

“I will now call on the Community of Saint’Egidio to begin preparations for the resumption of the Rome talks with the holdout groups without preconditions,” said President Kiir.

Talks between the coalition government and SSOMA began in 2019 following the group’s decline to sign the September 2019 revitalised peace agreement, arguing the accord did not comprehensively address the root causes of South Sudan’s conflict.

They included the leader of the NAS, Gen. Cirilo, Gen. Paul Malong Awan, leader of the South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A), and Gen. Pagan Amum, the chairperson of the Real Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (R-SPLM).

SSOMA groups joined the 2017 cessation of hostility agreement in 2020 and, in the same year, signed the declaration of principle agreement that formed the basis for the Rome peace negotiations.

The talks, since then, have witnessed several suspensions due to differences and accusations among the parties.

In April, SSOMA boycotted the round of negotiations, accusing the pro-government security personnel of slaying their senior officer in Kampala, which the government denied.