Rome Peace Talks in sight as gov’t set date

Rome Peace Talks in sight as gov’t set date
The Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr Barnaba Marial, secretary-general of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Paolo Impagliazzo and the leader of Real SPLM hold hands in a past meeting. [Photo: courtesy]

The government and the SSOMA holdout group have scheduled a meeting in Italy by the end of March 2023 to resume the peace talks, breaking the nearly five-month lull since the suspension of the talks.

Garang Malual Deng, the spokesperson of SSUF/A leader Gen. Paul Malong Awan, told The City Review that the faction would meet with government officials on March 20 in what could be considered the beginning of the resumption of the Rome Peace talks.

SSUF/A is a faction within the umbrella organization, SSOMA, which has been engaged in the Rome peace initiative with the government of South Sudan since 2019.

 “We will have talks on March 20 of this month (March) with the government in Italy, that is for your information, brother, with your media group”, Deng told this reporter.

The Press Secretary in the Office of the President, Lily Manyiel, confirmed to The City Review that the meeting between the government and the holdout group would begin toward the end of the month, but she was yet to verify the exact date of resumption.

Should the trip to Italy materialize, it will break the long wait for the Rome peace talks, whose fate has remained unknown for some time despite government commitment earlier in the year that it would consider further talks with the group—comprising Gen. Paul Malong, Pagan Amum, and Gen. Thomas Cirilo, who is yet to show commitment.

President Salva Kiir suspended the talks with the holdout group in November 2022, citing a lack of commitment from the group after deadly road ambushes rocked the Juba-Nimule highway—the country’s main gateway to the foreign market.

But President Kiir would then rescind this decision hours before Pope Francis landed in Juba for a peace tour in an affirmation of support for peace and the proclamation of 2023 as a year of “peace and reconciliation.”

“In honour of the Holy Father Pope Francis’ historic visit to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the year of peace and reconciliation, I am officially announcing the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks with the Holdout Groups,” President Kiir noted.

“I hope that my brothers from the Non-Signatories South Sudan Opposition Group will reciprocate this gesture and engage with us honestly to achieve an inclusive peace in our country.”

Deng then said in a statement on March 4, 2023, that they were prepared and were only waiting for the call from the mediators to resume the negotiations. Deng asked the government to live up to the promise and not use the papal visit to issue statements of lip service.

A number of obstacles in the negotiations have prevented the parties from reaching an agreement and leading the nation toward an all-inclusive peace. But the Sant Egidio group is unwavering in its resolve to bring about change for the South Sudanese people.