UNITED NATIONS (AP) — South Sudan's government has given only "a lukewarm response" to a regional effort to revive the 2015 peace agreement and end worsening violence in the world's newest nation, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said Tuesday.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the U.N. Security Council that opposition figures including the country's former vice president, Riek Machar, "all declared cautious support to the process."
"I would like to emphasize the criticality of this initiative and urge council members to use their leverage on all parties and encourage them to engage in this process meaningfully and without preconditions," the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping said.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is heading to South Sudan next week, told the council Sept. 26 that the revitalization process put forward by the eight-nation East African regional group known as IGAD "is the last chance at salvaging the peace agreement." Haley expressed hope South Sudan's leaders would seize the opportunity, warning that if they didn't, Security Council members must "individually and collectively" do more to end the conflict.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Machar, a Nuer who now lives in South Africa.
The August 2015 peace agreement has not stopped the fighting, and clashes in July 2016 between supporters of Kiir and Machar set off further violence. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.
There is strong Security Council support for the High Level Revitalization Forum that IGAD is trying to convene. Lacroix said IGAD foreign ministers met with Kiir and his Cabinet on Oct. 13, and South Sudan's leader reportedly asked for clarifications about the forum's objectives.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief said he feels that rather than give support to the regional initiative, South Sudan's government remains focused on promoting a national dialogue aimed at moving toward elections. But, he said, opposition groups are mostly unwilling to join in that effort, notably because of military action by government forces, and "the credibility of the (reconciliation) process remains in question."
Lacroix cited deteriorating security in the past month in the country's provinces of Greater Upper Nile, Northern Jonglei, eastern Upper Nile, Western Equitoria, and southern Central Equatoria.
"All of these incidents should be cause for grave concern given the imminent start to the dry season which traditionally leads to increased levels of violence, with improved mobility across the country," he warned.
Lacroix said the human rights situation in South Sudan also remains "extremely concerning," citing extrajudicial killings of civilians, arbitrary arrests and detentions, repression of free speech and harassment of political opponents.
Since the start of the conflict, he said, over 2 million people have fled the country and 1.9 million are displaced in South Sudan.
"With the return of the dry season towards the end of the year, population movements — particularly refugee outflows — will likely re-accelerate," Lacroix said.
The number of incidents related to the delivery of humanitarian aid has also grown in recent months, he said.
Over 100 incidents were recorded in August, "over half involving violence against personnel or assets," he said.
Two aid workers were killed in August and one in September, bringing this year's total to 18, humanitarian supplies have been regularly looted, and the government has imposed additional "bureaucratic impediments" including higher taxes and fees that are impacting aid organizations, Lacroix said.