After President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar failed to agree on the number of states and their borders during several face-to-face meetings in December, regional bloc IGAD appointed a committee to mediate the issue and come up with a proposal for the parties.
The committee is comprised of South African Deputy President David Mabuza, Kenya’s special envoy to the South Sudan peace talks Kalonzo Musyoka, Uganda’s special envoy to South Sudan Betty Bigombe and IGAD envoy Ismail Waise.
South Africa’s Mabuza, the head of the committee, said in Juba Thursday his group consulted the parties to the deal but could not reach a compromise.“
We all agree that we are going to form the government of national unity, but we are going to subject the question of the number of states to arbitration; a mechanism that is going to take up to 90 days which is the proposal on the table,” Mabuza told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Mabuza did not explain what the arbitration entails but said the parties should form a transitional government of national unity government by the February 22 deadline and resolve the issue over states and boundaries later.
In 2017, President Kiir unilaterally increased the number of states from 10 to 32, a decision the opposition said violated a 2015 peace agreement.
While Kiir appears to be refusing to budge on the number of states, the SPLM-in-Opposition has said it either wants to return to the original 10 states or would be amenable to setting up 21 districts as established by British colonialists prior to South Sudan becoming a country.
On Wednesday, Kiir, Machar and Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a member of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, held a two-hour closed-door meeting in a bid to resolve the dispute and evaluate the possibility of forming a unity government next month.
Mabuza said his committee will draft a final proposal and release it to the public soon.“
Our feeling is that the government does not have a problem with the proposal. We are now taking this proposal to other parties. We are going to finalize this proposal and make the public aware,” Mabuza said.
Martin Elia Lumoro, South Sudan’s cabinet affairs minister, said the parties have made progress in implementing the peace agreement and the government welcomes the proposal to form a unity government before a deal is reached on the number and boundaries of states.“
We as the government of the Republic of South Sudan have listened very carefully, have reported concretely on the progress of implementation of the agreement on the ground, the security and other issues that are political in nature and we are very excited with the level of engagement of the envoys, also with our partner the I-O, with the presence of Dr. Machar in town,” said Lumoro.
Kiir security advisor Tutkew Gatluak said Wednesday that the Kiir administration has not changed its position on the number of states.
Repeated calls to SPLM IO spokesperson Manawa Peter Gatkuoth went unanswered. A SPLM-IO statement issued earlier this week said “since the parties have failed to reach an agreement on the number of states and their boundaries during their last round of consultations facilitated by South Africa’s deputy president, the SPLM-IO recommends formation of another committee composed of, among others, Troika countries to determine the number of states and their boundaries.”
The Troika consists of the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States, three countries that encouraged the government and opposition to sign the 2018 peace agreement.
The statement does not state whether Machar’s group would agree to be part of the unity government if the dispute over states and boundaries remains unresolved next month.
The Independent Boundaries Commission, which was originally tasked with determining the number of states and their boundaries in the 2018 peace deal, failed to reach a compromise and recommended that the matter be resolved politically.
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