By Benjamin Takpiny
JUBA, South Sudan (AA) - As parties to South Sudan's peace agreement are expected to form a transitional government of national unity on Feb. 22, they still have some differences which seem to block its formation, as opposition leader Riek Machar has rejected the president's offer to reduce the number of states to 10 and create three administrative areas in the country.
Machar appears to be playing politics which will not sit well with the guarantors and President Salva Kiir’s supporters, said Augustino Ting Mayai, a South Sudanese political analyst at the Juba-based Sudd Institute.
“Riek’s partial rejection of the compromise is only a means of negotiation. He can’t be taken seriously if he continues to belabor the issue of administrative areas. Ordinarily, in a situation like this, one must give up something to get another. The president has done this to gain something, which is more important than political rhetorics,” Mayai told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview in the South Sudanese capital Juba.
He said the government might be formed, depending on whether Riek relents, adding: “This is essential in light of the fact that the opposition must be on board to form a unity government.”
“They ought to continuously show leadership, compromising when necessary to allow the country to heal. Machar, in particular, ought to positively reciprocate in return of Kiir’s landmark gesture,” he added.
The parties may not meet the deadline on Feb. 22, but they may meet it partially, meaning they could now pass the constitution and sign it into law within a few days, James Okuk, another political analyst and lecturer at Juba University, said.
“The president's decision to reduce the number of states is the right choice, because that has now reset the political will which has been missing all along. So from here, things will move positively towards the formation of the transitional unity government," Okuk said.
Kiir on Saturday agreed to return the country to a system of 10 states rather than the current 32, raising hopes for a compromise to end internal clashes.
The president also said he resolved to return the world's youngest nation to a 10-state plus three administrative areas, easing a "sticky issue" as the country moves on from civil war.
"The compromise we have just made is in the interest of peace [...] I expect the opposition to reciprocate," he added, following a meeting of top government and military officials in Juba.
“This decision was reached by the presidency after weighing several options and we thought let us compromise to preserve the unity of the country and move the people of South Sudan out of this imposed senseless conflict which has affected the livelihood of many of our citizens for the last six years,” Kiir said.
“We must stop this suffering, because our people deserve the best. The compromise we have made today is one of the painful decisions I have ever made, but it is necessary if that’s what will bring back peace and preserve the unity of our people.”
Some members of the public welcomed the news, saying it is a good move for peace and stability in the country.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Machar stressed he opposed the idea of forming three administrative areas, saying it "cannot be [just] referred to as reverting to 10 states."
"We, therefore, call upon Kiir to reconsider this idea of creating administrative areas," Machar said.
Puok Both Baluang, the spokesperson of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), said they strongly welcomed Kiir’s offer to revert to the original 10 states, because it resolves disputes over land and boundaries in the country.
Baluang added: “But we don’t accept the establishment of Abyei, Ruweng and Pibor administrative areas because they were part of Warrap, Unity and Jonglei, respectively.”
The parties are going to discuss the land dispute issue before the formation of the unity government, he stressed.
While the opposition welcomed the move, it rejects the creation of Ruweng, Pibor and Abyei administrative areas.
Manawa Peter, the deputy spokesman of the SPLM-IO, expressed optimism that the long-awaited unity government will be formed this weekend, and said the remaining outstanding issues cannot stop the formation of the long-awaited unity government this weekend.
“It’s actually about Ruweng. This issue should be put on the table. But it will not stop or prevent the formation of the government,” Peter told reporters upon the arrival of Machar to Juba from Khartoum on Monday.
He said 90% of the critical issues that have hindered the formation of the revitalized government of national unity twice have now been resolved.
The Presidential Press Secretary Ateny Wek Ateny said the government currently has no comment on Machar’s rejection to Kiir's peace offer, and added that since Machar is in Juba they are going to meet and discuss all the outstanding issues.
South Sudan’s minister of information and broadcasting said Wednesday that the much-awaited revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) will be formed by Feb. 22.
Michael Makuei Lueth said after the end of the 100 days of a pre-transitional period agreed last November there would be no more extensions after former warring parties failed twice to meet the agreed deadline.
“There is no (peace) agreement ever implemented fully. Whatever agreement was signed, you continue with the implementation. We are saying no more extension. As for the unified forces, the VIP forces are ready to be graduated and deployed anytime and will protect the VIPs,” Makuei said after a weekly Cabinet meeting.
He said the revitalized peace agreement cannot be held hostage due to pending issues awaiting implementation.