SSOMA-government talks must not drag or collapse, expert warns

SSOMA-government talks must not drag or collapse, expert warns
Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Government Special Envoy to the Rome Peace Talks (Photo by VOA)

JUBA – A policy expert has urged the international community to cajole the government of South Sudan and the holdout groups into reaching a sustainable ceasefire agreement as soon as possible.

In a blog highlighting a weekly assessment of affairs in the country, Brian Adeba who is the deputy director of policy at The Sentry argues that both the government and the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA)—led by Gen. Paul Malong and Pagan Amum—would be on the receiving end if no deal is reached. Published on July 22 by The Sentry, the blog is titled ‘International pressure needed to accelerate Rome peace talks’.

According to Adeba, the international community has paid more attention to the implementation of the peace deal between SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO and other parties in the agreement hence neglecting the engagement with holdout groups.

Adeba notes in the blog, ‘‘The formation of a government of national unity between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) is deflecting the international community’s attention from ramping up pressure on the parties in the Rome talks to sign an agreement quickly.’’

He argues that the government may not be keen on urgently reaching out to the two leaders of the holdout group on account that they may not be presenting a security challenge like the National Salvation Front (NAS). But he adds that the uncertainty that comes with it is unsettling and the more the talk is dragging the more SSOMA continues to weaken due to defections.

‘‘Meanwhile, the holdout rebel groups in the Rome talks do not pose a lethal military threat to the government. Except for the NAS, these groups do not have armies on the ground, and so the government does not feel pressured to reach a deal.

‘‘…it may be in the interest of the holdout groups to reach a deal soon because of their weakened position relative to the government. The longer it takes to reach an agreement, the more opportunity is created for fragmentation within their ranks,’’ he says, as he further clarifies that the ‘‘government is not wasting time in sowing discord among the ranks of the holdout groups but rather working hard to convince leaders from these groups to defect to the government’’.

Must speed up

The Rome talks, mediated by the Community of Sant’Egidio, began in Naivasha, Kenya, last year. Gen. Thomas Cirilo of the NAS pulled out of the talks citing persistent attacks on his troops in the Central Equatoria region despite having an existing ceasefire arrangement on the table.

Cirilo boycotted another mediation that took place in Naivasha as his faction accused the government of taking a part in the assassination of Brig. Gen. Abraham Wani Yoane Bondo in Uganda in May.

The government engaged SSOMA in another round of talks on July 17 in Rome, where the Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin led a delegation of the government.

Dr. Barnaba expressed optimism that there was massive progress and that the holdout groups nominated a representative to coordinate with the Ceasefire & Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM).

Dr. Barnaba said the leaders ‘were welcome home to where they belong’. He further revealed the intention to engage Gen Cirilo and bring him to the dialogue table.

However, according to Adeba, the government should move with steps and hasten the dialogue process so that the lives of the people can be saved from uncertainty.

‘‘…the international community should not relent in pressuring all sides, especially the government, to reach a deal quickly. The conflict dynamics on the ground continue to worsen by the day, putting the lives of civilians in danger and creating food shortages in the short and long term. Equally concerning is the fact that further delays prolong the process of achieving justice and reconciliation,’’ he states.