South Sudan President Salva Kiir declined to sign a peace deal proposed by regional leaders on Monday, saying he required more time, the mediator of the crisis said.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into chaos in December 2013 when a political row between Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar spiraled into armed conflict that reopened ethnic faultlines.
Seyoum Mesfin, the mediator for IGAD, the East African bloc leading the talks, said Kiir’s side required two weeks before signing the peace deal that was accepted by the South Sudanese rebels.
“In the next 15 days, the government will come back to Addis Ababa to finalize the peace agreement,” Seyoum said. No one from the government was immediately available to comment.
Numerous rounds of negotiations have failed to end fighting that has killed over 10,000 people and displaced more than two million, with both sides engaging in a war of attrition despite signing ceasefire deals.
Last month, IGAD set Aug. 17 as the deadline to end the drawn-out talks, outlining proposals for ending the fighting.
The proposal designates a 30-month transition period with Kiir as president, with a first vice president post allocated to the rebels, IGAD said.
Elections would be held two months after the close of the interim period. Both Kiir and Machar would be eligible to run.
A member of IGAD’s mediation team told Reuters Kiir had reservations over the proposal’s plan to demilitarize the capital, Juba, and also sought to scrap a provision that calls for consultations with Machar on “powers, functions and responsibilities” he would exercise.
Kiir’s delegation has also criticized some other aspects of the proposal, including an 18-month deadline for the integration of armed forces, saying this must be done in less than six months.
Machar said he was satisfied with the agreement. “We do not have any reservations on the ceasefire. We have no reason to continue fighting,” he told a news conference.
“There is no reason why he (Kiir) requested for more time. He has got a good agreement.”
Seyoum said the delay by the government in signing the deal did not mean it was not committed to the search for a settlement, but western diplomats urged Kiir to accept it swiftly.
“The humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan is huge. We need the guns to fall silent,” Tobias Ellwood, Britain’s minister for Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, told journalists.
“The signatures of the other parties are still drying but one signature remains, so we very much encourage the President of South Sudan to recognize the spirit of this event today and sign the document.”
In his remarks on the occasion, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also Chairperson of IGAD, said it was an important one step forward into the political deadlock of the last 20 months.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to commend SPLM/SPLA in opposition and other political leaders to sign the agreement to give peace chance after a very long time…and often lengthy negotiation processes,” Desalegn said.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was represented at the meeting by his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo.