JUBA (Reuters) – The president of oil-rich South Sudan said on Wednesday that the formation of a unity government should be delayed by at least a year, despite a May 12 deadline in a September peace agreement that ended the civil war.
President Salva Kiir said the government had been unable to disarm, house, train and integrate South Sudan’s various forces since the deal had been signed, and rejected a suggestion by former rebel leader Riek Machar that the new government be formed in six months.
Kiir said that postponement came at Machar’s request, but said the rainy season would make it hard to accomplish the integration of their forces within six months.
“Instead of six months let us call for one year, because from May up to November, there will be rain still and you cannot move with a car to any location,” Kiir said in his speech. “We can form the government by April or May.”
Machar called for a six-month delay during a meeting with the Pope last month.
Around 400,000 people died during South Sudan’s five-year civil war, which broke out in 2013 between forces loyal to Machar – then vice president – and Kiir.
The September agreement followed a string of failed peace deals, but has largely held so far, despite both parties missing key deadlines. The cash strapped government has tried to use the breathing space to boost oil production, its only significant source of revenue.
Little progress has been made on state boundaries or the integration of government and rebel forces. On Wednesday, Kiir also accused Machar’s group of seeking new recruits, breaking the peace agreement.
Kiir suggested he could do the same.
“He is now recruiting and this recruitment is prohibited in the agreement and if it is a matter of recruitment, it does not cost me much to also recruit.”
Machar’s military spokesman denied the recruiting accusation, saying they only were sending envoys to communities to discuss the peace deal.
“Our chief of general staff and his commanders are for peace not war,” Lam Paul Gabriel, the acting spokesman for Machar’s rebels, said by phone from Addis Ababa on Wednesday. “Peace dissemination is what is being misunderstood as recruitment.”
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Bill Berkrot