UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of an international group monitoring South Sudan's peace process said Thursday the formation of a transitional national unity government in South Sudan was now within reach.
Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, told the U.N. Security Council that despite continuing cease-fire violations "there has been notable progress."
South Sudan has been at war since December 2013 as government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battle rebels led by his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting and over 2 million displaced.
Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August 2015, but fighting has continued, even after Kiir named Machar as his vice president again on Feb. 11. While accepting the post, Machar has not yet arrived in the capital, Juba, mainly because of security concerns.
U.N. envoy Ellen Margrethe Loj said South Sudan is at "a critical juncture," and sustained progress requires both leaders to form the transitional government without delay and demonstrate "the courage to compromise for the sake of peace."
She stressed that a transitional government is essential to the country's longer-term stability but it's just a first step.
When Machar returns to Juba to form the transitional government with Kiir, Loj said, "the hard work of rebuilding the country has to start, and difficult decisions must be taken."
She said humanitarian needs are escalating across the country and "the dramatic deterioration of the economic situation" could have security implications.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said 6 million people — more than half of South Sudan's population — need aid as a result of the deepening humanitarian crisis. That figure includes "a staggering 2.8 million people (who) are severely food insecure," he said.
Despite calls for civilians to be respected, O'Brien said "civilians continue to be targeted, attacked and displaced" and the humanitarian situation "remains dire."
He said corruption and illegal taxes "remain rampant," with humanitarian convoys subjected to payments at checkpoints.
"Convoys traveling from Juba to Bentiu by road recently reported over 50 checkpoints, with each truck required to pay a total of more than 30,000 South Sudanese pounds or $1,000," O'Brien said. "Such extortions are unacceptable and must stop."
U.N. deputy human rights chief Kate Gilmore lamented that despite the August 2015 peace agreement, human rights violations and abuses against civilians continue unabated.
She said high commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein has found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that allegations of "gross violations" may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.