JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Lawmakers in South Sudan on Tuesday voted to extend the tenure of President Salva Kiir by three years, a move the government had said was necessary for stability amid an ongoing rebellion led by a former deputy president.
The measure, passed by more than two-thirds of the legislators on Tuesday, also extends the tenure of the legislature, lawmaker Thomas Kundu, who heads parliament's information committee, told The Associated Press. He said the measure was necessary for peace and stability amid a violent rebellion led by Kiir's former deputy, Riek Machar.
"We believe these three years will give a chance for peace so that all of us prepare to conduct a census and after which we can conduct free and fair elections," Kundu said.
However, the opposition criticized the measure, saying it was meant to keep Kiir firmly in power.
"It means the government wants to cling onto power," said lawmaker Onyoti Adigo, a member of the opposition in parliament who voted against the measure. "The people were not consulted. That's why we are opposed to it."
Peace talks between Kiir and Machar have repeatedly failed. The fighting in the oil-rich East African country has killed tens of thousands and displaced two million people.
On Tuesday, a U.N. Security Council presidential statement expressed "profound disappointment" with the failure of Kiir and Machar to finalize a peace deal. The statement also repeated the council's intent to impose measures such as an arms embargo or sanctions against "senior individuals" who threaten the country's peace.
"Our feeling, frankly, is that those people who are involved there don't care. They don't care," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters. He said that if the council has consensus on imposing sanctions after months of threatening them, Russia won't stand in the way.
The council statement looked forward to the "rapid establishment" of a panel of experts that will assist a recently created U.N. sanctions committee on South Sudan. The committee is expected to meet for the first time Wednesday.
South Sudan's ambassador, Francis Deng, said imposing sanctions will devastate the country's economy and only cause more suffering. He told reporters that he'd like to see "a kind of threat that is more friendly."
South Sudan has seen sporadic fighting since December 2013 as government forces loyal to Kiir, a member of the dominant Dinka ethnic group, try to put down rebels led by Machar, who is of Nuer ethnicity. The fighting has often been along ethnic lines.
Machar had been Kiir's deputy until July 2013 when he was fired amid a power struggle in the country's ruling party.
It is widely believed that the political rivalry between Kiir and Machar fueled the current conflict in South Sudan — the reason many international observers and diplomats say a political solution is needed to bring peace to the country.
South Sudan became independent in 2011 when it cleaved off from Sudan after a referendum.
Associated Press reporters Jason Patinkin in Juba, South Sudan, and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.