South Sudan President Salva Kiir signed the much-awaited peace accord on Wednesday to end 20 months of civil war, but also issued a list of “serious reservations” warning the deal might not last.
The signing ceremony, held in the capital Juba in the presence of regional leaders, came hours after the UN Security Council threatened immediate action if Kiir failed to put his name to the accord, which has already been signed by rebel leader Riek Machar.
“The current peace we are signing today has so many things we have to reject,” Kiir declared. “Such reservations if ignored would not be in the interests of just and lasting peace,” he warned.
Although a list of his concerns was handed out, the deal was welcomed by regional leaders, including Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who had sent in troops to back Kiir’s forces.
Under the deal, they now have 45 days to leave.
“It is not a Bible it not the Koran, why should it not be revisited?,” Kiir queried of the deal. “Let us give ourselves time and see how we can correct these things,” he added.
The deal — backed by the regional eight-nation bloc IGAD, as well as the UN, the African Union, China and the “troika” of Britain, Norway and the United States — commits both sides to end fighting and implement a “permanent ceasefire” within 72 hours.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have died in a war characterised by ethnic massacres and rape, as well as a major humanitarian crisis that has left aid agencies struggling to pull the country back from the brink of famine. At least seven ceasefires have already been agreed and then shattered within days — if not hours — in the world’s newest country, which broke away from Sudan in 2011.
Both the government and rebels accused each other of launching attacks against the other on Wednesday.
The deal also gives the rebels the post of first vice president, which means that rebel chief Machar would likely return to the position he was sacked in July 2013, an event which put the country on the path to war later that year.
Machar already signed the deal on August 17, but at the time, Kiir only initialled part of the text.
His government then slammed the accord as a “sellout” and said it needed more time for consultations. But on Tuesday the UN Security Council piled fresh pressure on Kiir to sign it, warning it would “act immediately” if he did not.
Diplomats have said punitive measure could include an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against senior leaders, including asset freezes and travel bans. “We will take immediate action if he does not sign, or if he signs with reservations,” said Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, whose country currently chairs the council.
East African leaders, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who has hosted months of talks aimed at ending the war, travelled to South Sudan’s capital Juba for the signing ceremony. “This is the day the people of South Sudan have been waiting 20 months for,” said Hailemariam.
“We must all accept that we need to give and take… it is better for us to find solution around the negotiation table,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said. “This was not a just war, it was an unjust war. It was a wrong war, at a wrong place, at a wrong time – and the sooner you finish it the better,” Museveni said.
However, Rebel leader Machar remained in Ethiopia with mediators saying security measures were not in place for him to travel to Juba.
Key government concerns over the peace deal include provisions on the demilitarisation of Juba, giving greater powers to the rebels, and putting foreigners in charge of a Monitoring and Evaluation Commission — the body that will police the implementation of the deal.
By Olisemeka Obeche