Fred Oluoch’s Conversation with Barnaba Marial Benjamin about War and Peace in RSS

Posted: February 14, 2015 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Featured Articles, People

A reunited SPLM will help resolve internal issues, bring lasting peace

By FRED OLUOCH, TEA Special Correspondent

Background

  • EDUCATION: Dr Benjamin has professional training in medicine and diplomacy.
  • CAREER: Before 1983, he worked in various provincial and district-level hospitals in Wau and Yirol. He was also a senior registrar in general surgery in both Khartoum and Omdurman University Teaching Hospitals.
  • SPLM: He has held various positions in the liberation struggle, including serving as SPLM/SPLA treasurer-general. He was an SPLM member in SPLM\Sudan government peace talks in Nairobi in 1989 and is a member of the SPLM national liberation council.
  • MINISTER: He has held various positions in the Cabinet of South Sudan since the peace deal in 2005. Prior to his appointment to foreign affairs in July 2013, he was information minister from 2010 to 2013. He is also an MP for Uror South Constituency in Jonglei State.

The South Sudan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin talked to Fred Oluoch about the ongoing peace negotiations, what the government is ready to compromise on for peace, and its relations with Sudan.

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How far have the peace negotiations progressed and will they result in lasting peace?

In the Addis Ababa agreement of February 1, we signed areas of agreement that constitute 90 per cent of the peace agreement. We are left with about 10 per cent, which we believe will be completed when the talks resume on February 19. But the problem with the rebels is that they have been intransigent, and even the remaining 10 per cent has more to do with positions for individuals.

READ: South Sudan rivals in new ceasefire deal

But there were complaints from both sides that the February 1 agreement was imposed on the two parties by Igad. Any comment?

I don’t think anybody imposed any agreement on anybody. The two parties negotiated directly. The two principals sat alone with the two mediating teams to discuss and agree on several of these issues. Igad was fair.

Yet, there were concerns that the Addis Agreement did not build on the successes of the Arusha Accord.

Yes, this is our criticism because in Arusha, there was an agreement to reunify the SPLM. And that is why we’re saying that once SPLM is reunited, there will be no sharing of government, instead there will be distribution of responsibilities within the party. The government strongly believes that as a reunited SPLM, we will be able to resolve the country’s housekeeping issues within the party itself.

READ: No let up as Kiir, Machar allies dismiss deal

Is the government going back on the position of the prime minister, which was agreed on earlier?

Dr Riek Machar had initially wanted the position of an executive prime minister. The president rejected this outright and now wants the position of a vice president.

But South Sudan has its own political regional balances involving three regions. The three stones represent three top jobs in the country such that if the current president is from Greater Bah rel Ghazal, the vice-president is from Greater Equatoria and the speaker of the National Assembly must come from Greater Upper Nile.

With Dr Machar, who is from Greater Equatoria, taking the vice-presidency, it would mean that the Greater Upper Nile has two top positions. This could result in a new insurgency in Greater Equatoria.

As a government, which are the areas you are ready to compromise on?

We have compromised on many areas. First of all, we have accepted the formation of a transitional government to incorporate others despite being a democratically elected government.

Second, we have agreed to increase the number of ministerial portfolios so that the rebels can be a part of the Council of Ministers. We have agreed that the rebels that were part of the SPLM will be reintegrated without conditions and agreed to undertake reforms and national reconciliation together. We have also agreed on the idea of a federal system, which will be presented to the people of South Sudan.

Are there any areas that the government will not compromise on?

Dr Machar asking for the position of the vice-president is out of the question. We cannot do that, because it would involve removing a person who is already there and who forms part of the regional balance.

How soon do you foresee a transitional government in place?

As soon as we sign the agreement, the transitional government will be formed immediately to enable parliament to extend the transition period — because under normal circumstances, we were supposed to have elections and a new government in place by July 2015.

Does that mean that the government has withdrawn the threat to hold elections by June 30?

No, if we do not have a peace agreement, then we will have to hold elections because the Constitution states that a new government and parliament be in place by July 9. There is no way we will allow a vacuum or be seen as an illegitimate government.

But can such an election be seen as credible in the face of such crisis?

Why not? The majority of the country is at peace. Only three out of 10 states are affected by the war. Even in the three states where there is fighting the government has a presence. If it is not possible to conduct elections in these three states, then elections can be conducted later when they are finally peaceful. Furthermore, legitimacy comes from the people.

What is your position on the non-release of the Obasanjo report on human rights violations in the ongoing conflict? Can the report help bring peace to the country?

Well, the Obasanjo report was deferred by the AU Peace and Security Council because the timing of its release was not proper. As a government, there is no question that we believe in accountability.

How then can those who committed atrocities in South Sudan be held accountable?

As soon as we have a government in place, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be formed and investigations will be carried out.

What is the position of outstanding CPA issues with Khartoum given that the war has stalled progress for almost one and a half years?

We signed a co-operation agreement with Sudan in September 2012 and various committees were formed. All the committees are now working in order to implement the issues of the agreement. So there is movement in that direction.

I can assure you that we are also improving relations with Sudan, trying to implement border demarcation and resolving other areas involving trade between the two countries.

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