A cease-fire has taken effect in South Sudan’s war-torn Yei River state. The deal was signed in Uganda between a breakaway faction from the SPLA in opposition and the government. But top leaders of Riek Machar’s opposition SPLM-IO say they do not recognize the deal.
A peace agreement for Yei River state came after a four day joint military committee meeting in Kampala to discuss a cessation of hostilities, permanent cease-fire, national dialogue, and the opening of all roads leading to and from Yei town in South Sudan.
The key agreement was the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in opposition agreed to declare a permanent cease-fire and for both sides to ensure Yei River State is not a battleground.
Brigadier General Hillary Edson Yakani represented the SPLA in opposition and explained some of their demands.
“We have seen there are a lot of challenges, especially from the behavior of some military persons who were misusing their positions in mishandling our citizens, so this is one of our greatest demands, asking the government to bring in a well-balanced national army who will really handle people with all the respect and what is required of a national army,” said Yakani.
Lead government negotiator Major General Marshal Stephen Babanen says the agreement signed Sunday is going to be fully operational in 18 weeks, including the integration of the former rebels into the national army.
“As we have signed the agreement and the permanent cease fire, they are going to move to pre-assembly areas which will take them one to two weeks and then in the said week they will go to the assembly areas where all the activities of screening, training and integration will take place,” he said.
But when VOA contacted the main opposition SPLM-IO deputy spokesman Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel he said they do not recognize the group led by Brigadier General Yakani. Gabriel said those who signed the “fake” peace deal are individuals who deserted opposition leader Riek Machar.
But Yakani says he represents more than 16,000 armed troops in Yei River State.
“When we went to the bush we did not sign a document with Riek Machar, but we all went to the bush because there was problem, so now that we are coming back, we command the forces in Yei River State, it is not Riek Machar who commands the forces,” he said.
The agreement was a result of a request from South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
The grassroots peace initiative process follows a January visit to Yei by Kiir.
Yei was a headquarters of the SPLA during the struggle with Sudan and has been at the heart of the fighting in South Sudan. The U.N. human rights office released a report in May alleging pro-government forces killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town from July 2016 to January 2017. The army has denied those allegations.
Yei town was considered mostly peaceful until the flare-up of violence in July 2016, following Machar’s departure from Juba. Since that time, many residents have fled, often to refugee settlements in neighboring Uganda.