South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has sworn in 28 governors of new states in a move that could threaten to derail the fragile peace process in the country.
In remarks made during the swearing in ceremony held for the governors in the capital Juba Tuesday, Kiir insisted the creation of new states will not go against the peace accord.
“The [peace] agreement was signed in August and we alone cannot begin its implementation without the other parties and we cannot sit and fold our hands. We need to move forward and if our brothers, the SPLM-IO, come back, we will welcome them,” the president added.
Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/-IO) is the breakaway faction of the party led by rebel leader Riek Machar.
“By appointing you now, we are being challenged that we violated the agreement. The agreement is in place and we are implementing it,” he said. “So please, you support this agreement and tell people in the states to support it, welcome the SPLM-IO in the states and protect their security,” Kiir told the new governors.
However, South Sudan’s opposition berated the president’s move as lack of sincerity to the implementation of a fragile peace accord aimed at ending two years of bloody conflict in the country.
Leader of the SPLM-IO advance team to Juba, Taban Deng Gai, warned that the move had gone “against the agreement signed on the basis of 10 states”.
Addressing a press conference in Juba Tuesday, Gai said: “We are against this. Anyone who wants 28 states should wait for the permanent constitution.
“Even us, we have been calling for 21 states based on former districts and not tribal basis and we were told to wait for the constitution and we are waiting.”
Dr. Lam Akol, leader of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change party, who addressed the same press conference with Gai, said that the integrity of the peace process would come into doubt.
“No one party can violate the agreement and this is where the government goes wrong,” Akol said. “If they are convinced of their argument, then they should wait for the constitution,” he added.
He said the only win-win situation in the country was to respect the agreement. “We should hurry up to implement the transitional government other than creating obstacles on the way,” he said.
“It is a clear violation and it’s unacceptable,” Edmond Yakani Bazilious, civil society activist and executive director of Community Empowerment and Progress Organization, said.
“President Kiir rejected the proposal on federalism, saying South Sudan was not ready for federalism or the creation of more states. Yet now he unilaterally decreed the creation of 28 new states! This unwarranted action has divided and torn apart many communities in South Sudan who have been living peacefully alongside each other for ages and since time immemorial,” Bazilious added.
Kiir's decrees come after a parliamentary struggle in November during which supporters of the 28-states plan sought to modify Article 161 (1) of the country’s constitution, which says “the territory of South Sudan is composed of 10 states”.
South Sudan slid into chaos after Kiir sacked his own ex-vice president Machar in 2013, accusing him and scores of others of plotting a coup. In the ensuing violence that descended into a civil war and spread quickly across the country, tens of thousands were killed and nearly two million people were displaced.
Talks between the South Sudanese government and SPLM/A-IO stalled last year in December. Since then, African Union mediators have been working to get the negotiations in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa back on track.
On Oct. 26, the warring factions in South Sudan agreed in Addis Ababa to form a joint police force and implement the demilitarization of Juba city, following an impasse in the peace deal signed by Kiir and Machar in August.
According to the agreement, a 3,000-strong Joint Integrated Police Force -- 1,500 from each warring groups -- will be formed for a 30-month transitional period. "The Presidential Guard shall be limited to 1,000, [while] the first vice president’s protection detail shall be limited to 300," the agreement said.
Also, according to the deal, the South Sudanese capital and 25 kilometers around it will be demilitarized, while 5,000 lightly-armed guards will secure barracks, bases and warehouses.
Another agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on Nov. 4, which said that the SPLM/A-IO led by Machar will enter Juba to start the 30-month Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) to end 21 months of war. The transitional period is expected to last for a period of two-and-a-half years during which the army, currently split into two between the warring factions, is expected to be reunified.