Johannesburg – The African Union (AU) has launched yet another peace process, which includes South Africa, to try to stop the bloody civil war in South Sudan and has threatened UN Security Council sanctions against the country’s leaders if they fail once again to make compromises for the sake of peace.
AU leaders meeting for their summit which ends here on Monday, established an AU “ad-hoc high-level committee” of five heads of states and government to add heft and impetus to the existing peace process run by the regional body IGAD which has been stalled for two months.
The AU ad-hoc committee representing each of the AU’s regions, comprises South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Chad and Rwanda. South Africa has already been involved in the peace efforts through an ANC initiative led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, with Tanzania’s ruling CCM party. This was aimed at trying to heal the splits in South Sudan’s ruling SPLM party – mainly between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the deputy president he had recently fired – which caused the eruption of fighting in December 2013.
AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lashed the South Sudanese leaders at the summit, saying it was disappointing that they had made so very little progress in peace talks.
“And I hope we can go back to the drawing board because the people of South Sudan sometimes are not even able to bury their dead. People are eaten by vultures. Women have no place to sleep. They are unable to plough their fields.
“And we are just visiting extreme misery on those people of South Sudan. Any why? For what? I don’t know. We need to do a lot more and the parties of South Sudan must do a lot more , the government and the opposition, to find a solution, to stop this carnage, killing their own people.
“How do we kill people if we want to preside over them as our people? I’m sorry, it’s something that just should not be allowed to continue.”
The AU Peace and Security Council which met at heads of state level at the summit, called in its communiqué for the UN sanctions committee on South Sudan to take “urgent steps” to designate individuals and entities who should be sanctioned.
But on Monday the AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui told ANA that the sanctions would only be imposed on individuals if they did not cooperate with the new peace process.
Chergui said that the new five-nation ad-hoc high level committee had met the heads of state of IGAD – the Intergovernmental Authority on Development – which has been conducting the peace talks so far, to coordinate their efforts. They had also met the AU’s new High Representative for South Sudan, former Malian President and AU Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare.
“I’m happy to tell you the interaction was very good and constructive. And we look forward to an early summit, perhaps in July, of IGAD and ad hoc committee of five other states who are supposed to help the process.”
Meanwhile, Konare would immediately start his work in talks with the South Sudanese government in Juba – “and hopefully the opposition so we can hopefully speed up the process for a durable peace to really stop the loss of life and also to meet the demanding situation on the ground in terms of the humanitarian needs of the people”.
Donald Booth, US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan on Monday welcomed the appointment of the new AU ad-hoc high level panel and said it could move the peace process forward.
He noted that at the last round of IGAD negotiations in March, the chairman of IGAD had indicated there would need to be a reinforcement of the mediation effort because of the unwillingness of the South Sudanese parties to make the compromises necessary for peace. He said there had been no progress in the IGAD peace effort since then which had resulted in a return to fighting.
The decisions by the AU Peace and Security Council at this summit were a “ very strong signal to the South Sudanese parties that this is the time to stop the fighting and move forward on a peace agreement and a transitional process that will give South Sudan an opportunity for a new start,” Booth said.
He said the IGAD mediators had given the South Sudanese parties the outline of a possible peace agreement which both the government and opposition were taking a serious look at.
“But what has been stressed repeatedly is that in order to achieve peace there has to be the leadership demonstrated to make the compromises for peace. The people of South Sudan continue to suffer in the past two months because of the fighting. Another 150 000 people have been displaced. And the UN estimate is that as of early July close to 4,6 million South Sudanese will be close to the verge of life-threatening hunger. That’s 40% of the population.
“So the idea that fighting is only in small pockets of the country is definitely not an accurate reflection. South Sudanese in many parts of the country are facing severe hunger issues needing emergency assistance.
“They’ve been displaced in numbers that go up to roughly 1,5 to 2 million internally displaced person and refugee camps in neighbouring countries. So this is a very serious humanitarian situation. And the only way to begin to turn this around is through a peace agreement and getting all South Sudanese to work together.