Collective call for South Sudan's politicians to prioritise peace as tensions mount

South Sudan’s rival leaders signed a new agreement in 2018 leading to the formation of a unity government last year but peace remains fragile

Leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO) Riek Machar shakes hands with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir after a tripartite summit on the revitalised agreement on resolutions of the conflict in South Sudan, at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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The heads of prominent civil and religious groups in South Sudan have called on the country's political leaders to end their rivalries and find a permanent solution to the country’s shaky peace.

The joint statement is not the first collective rebuke of the country’s politicians by national or international groups, almost three years after they formed a unity government.

It was signed by the South Sudan Council of Churches, the South Sudan Civil Society Forum and the South Sudan Women’s Coalition for Peace.

“While we acknowledge reduction of military confrontations among forces of parties to the peace agreement, positive steps to hold few armed forces accountable for crimes against civilians and the reconstitution of the executive of the new unity government as well as appointment of all ten state governors, we remain deeply concerned that the overall situation has not convincingly improved,” the statement said.

South Sudan fell into civil war in 2013, just two years after the country gained independence from Sudan. The conflict claimed up to 400,000 lives and displaced more than four million people – almost half of the country’s population – amid large-scale rape and ethnic cleansing, according to the United Nations.

The power struggle pitted President Salva Kiir against his longtime rival and current peace partner, First Vice President Riek Machar. The pair signed a historic peace agreement in September 2018 and formed a unity government two years later.

A previous peace deal collapsed just months after the formation of a unity government in 2016.

The political tensions between the former arch-enemies escalated recently following disagreements over the appointment of local officials outside the capital Juba.

They each command separate armies and international peace monitors have warned that the current deadlock could jeopardise years of hard peace talks, pushing the country into protracted infighting once more.

“The country has continued to witness devastating inter-communal violence, displacement of civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, unnecessary roadblocks for extorting money and inflicting pain on travellers and humanitarian workers alongside an economy that falters with soaring inflation rates,” said the joint statement.

Most people displaced by the war have so far declined to return home for fear that violence could erupt once more.