South Sudan president starts national dialogue process
President Kiir declares unilateral cease-fire with rebels but bars his former deputy Machar from returning to country
By Parach Mach
JUBA, South Sudan
President Salva Kiir on Monday officially launched a much-awaited national dialogue initiative but barred his former deputy Riek Machar from returning to the country to take up part in a political settlement.
Machar, who fled the country during a resurgence of violence in South Sudan last July, has been replaced by his former chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai. The opposition, including Machar had described the dialogue to end the ongoing conflict as "bogus”.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, African Union representatives, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development members and heads of diplomatic missions attended the ceremony.
Addressing the official launch and swearing-in ceremony for the national dialogue steering committee members in the capital, Juba, Kiir said: “Everybody will participate in the national dialogue except Riek Machar, if he comes he will cause another war”.
Kiir also declared a unilateral cease-fire with rebels as part of his bid to end the ongoing civil war. He ordered his security agencies to create an atmosphere for national dialogue.
“I am also once again declaring a unilateral cease-fire effective immediately. I further order the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] command to immediately observe this in their defensive positions,” he said.
Kiir also appealed to armed groups fighting his government to lay down their arms and join the process, while assuring them of safety if they complied.
“Although many critics doubted our intentions, we have listened to the voices of our people and their call for an inclusive dialogue process. We have an enlarged steering committee and secretariat to allow participation of our people, including opposition figures,” he said.
Museveni also called on regional and international partners to support the dialogue process for the sake of peace in South Sudan.
He wished South Sudan “good luck” in the process.
Angelo Beda, a co-chair of the national dialogue process, called on the government to provide a conducive environment, including freedom of expression to stakeholders.
“Government should guarantee safety for those who have taken [up] arms and rebelled against the government, and there should be also freedom of speech,” Beda said.
Last December, Kiir, whose wrangling for power with Machar plunged the young nation into a brutal conflict, called for "national dialogue" that seeks to accommodate all the country’s political and armed groups’ grievances.
The ambitious aims of the initiative would "save the country from disintegration and usher in a new era of peace, stability and prosperity," he added.
South Sudan has been ravaged by ruinous civil war since 2013. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, over a million displaced from their homes including 5.3 million people at the risk of starvation, according to the UN.
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