South Sudan President, Salva Kiir, will not participate in the African Union (AU) annual summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday, his office said on Friday.
The continental summit, to be attended by heads of state and government from across Africa, will also discuss the delayed formation of a transitional government of national unity (TGoNU) in South Sudan and the obstacles to the implementation of the peace deal which President Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar, signed in August last year.
President Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said Juba’s team to the AU headquarters will be led by the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
“He [President Kiir] is not attending [the AU] summit,” said Ateny when contacted on Friday to confirm Kiir’s trip to Addis Ababa.
“The president is attending to other urgent things here in Juba,” Ateny added.
President Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar – who is now leading the SPLM in Opposition – were expected to meet in Addis Ababa in the corridors of the AU summit in order to iron out the difficulties in forming a transitional government.
Ateny declined to delve into details of such commitment that President Kiir is committed to do over the weekend in Juba, despite the seemingly priority AU summit on his country’s future.
South Sudan Ambassador to Ethiopia, Akuei Bona Malwal, confirmed the absence of President Kiir at the AU summit in a separate interview earlier on Friday.
“We decided that he better attends to the business at home and the delegated Nhial Deng Nhial [Chief Negotiator] and the Minister of Foreign Affairs [Barnaba Marial Benjamin] to attend the summit, which is actually a normal practice, and he is not alone,” Malwal said.
He said Kiir was working on formation of transitional government and this made it impossible to participate in the AU summit.
President Kiir last visited Addis Ababa in August 2015 when he attended the final day of peace talks. The president, who did not sign the document, was reportedly prevented from leaving the country in fear of senior generals who had been against the peace agreement.
It is not the first time for President Kiir to avoid attending gathering of world leaders to discuss his country. Last September he failed to attend a United Nations high profile meeting of world leaders in New York to discuss peace in South Sudan.
Observers allude to his skipping the summit as a way to avoid pressure from regional leaders who may call on him to reverse his decision of unilaterally creating 28 states in violation of the peace agreement.
Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition faction, Riek Machar, is said to have been waiting in Addis Ababa for the AU summit and to have that rare opportunity to meet President Kiir over the outstanding issues including the controversial 28 states.
“My chairman, Dr Riek Machar, is in Addis Ababa to participate in the AU summit. This will also be an opportunity for him to meet President Salva Kiir and discuss some sticking points in the implementation of the peace agreement,” Machar’s press secretary, James Gatdet Dak, said when contacted on Friday.
He said there is need for the parties to abide by the peace agreement in spirit and letter and incorporate it into a new transitional constitution based on the existing 10 states.
A transitional unity government, he said, would be formed based on a new constitution drawn from the peace agreement.
Ban ki Moon ‘deeply disappointed’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ and urged the South Sudanese parties to settle the outstanding issues and to form the transitional government.
“I call on all parties urgently to resolve the disputes that are preventing the establishment of the government. The parties must place the interests of their young nation and its people, who have suffered long enough, above their own,” Ban said in a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.
The signatories to the peace agreement ending the nearly two year conflict in South Sudan failed to meet the January 22 deadline for the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.
The UN Secretary General also called on the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, IGAD, to hold the South Sudanese parties accountable for following through on their commitments.
He reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to lend its full support to the chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) President Festus Mogae, the African Union High Representative President Alpha Oumar Konaré, and IGAD, in their efforts to end the suffering of the South Sudanese people.