The pain of the people of South Sudan who have endured five years of civil war was palpable during an inter-faith prayer session at peace talks underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Priests and members of their congregations wept as they prayed for political leaders to find a compromise, to reconcile, and work together to build lasting peace.
“The widows and orphans, for how long will they continue like this,” wept one woman. “Why should they not give up? Even the people who fight for this land, they give up. They die for this land and they don’t want to die.”
All the parties attending the High-Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa admit that progress in carving out a new path towards peace has been slow. Talks have now been extended a further 48-hours.
The South Sudan Council of Churches has been leading private negotiations between the parties to try and narrow the gap between their positions. However, as talks head into their sixth day, the religious leaders have handed back responsibility for making progress to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-member East African trade bloc.
“We continue to pray for the different parties that, what they have said, they will respect it to enable our people to be free and not always to run or be displaced,” said Archbishop Justin Badi.
Discussions have focused on governance and security arrangements. While high-level agreement has been reached on the need for new security arrangements in the conflict-ridden country, consensus on its implementation remains elusive.
“Our view as a Government is that we cannot canton all the forces, and in fact, when they say all, they mean both the SPLA, National Security, police, fire brigade, everybody, then hand over the country to a UN force,” said Cabinet Affairs Minister Martin Elia Lomoro. “For us, that means trusteeship - handing over our country to the UN and that is not practical. What we think is reasonable is to canton forces that are close to each other in the area of war, where there is war.”
The representative for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In-Opposition, Angelina Teny, said, without adequate transitional security arrangements, there was a risk of further violence. She advocated for a total cantonment of all forces.
“We think this is an opportunity for us to start from scratch to really put together an appropriate process that will help us produce members who would be in the security sector who would know their roles,” she said. “We know our security sector is, not only tribal, but it is political. You need to create a security sector that is subordinate to the civil authority. To us, that is paramount and this would give us a very good start to embark on nation-building.”
While the warring parties again committed to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed just five months ago, fighting continues to flare in hot spots across the country.
“The question of South Sudan should be resolved politically and not militarily. In this regard, we expect some compromise to be made by the principals here and that should be to put the interests of the South Sudanese ahead of their personal ones,” said the Head of the African Union in South Sudan, Joram Biswaro.
IGAD is expected to present a proposed plan for compromise to all parties today in the hope that lasting peace can be reached.