Juba, February 13, 2016 (GMN) - South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir names rival Rieck Machar as deputy, fuelling hopes of end to two years of ethnic conflictSouth Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, has named his arch-rival Riek Machar as vice-president, raising hopes for the implementation of a repeatedly broken peace deal to end more than two years of civil war.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million forced from their homes since the conflict broke out in December 2013, pushing the world’s youngest nation to the brink of famine.
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“I, Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the Republic of South Sudan, do hereby issue this republican decree for the appointment of Dr Riek Machar Teny as the first vice-president of the Republic of South Sudan,” said the decree issued late on Thursday.
While the appointment was agreed as part of an August 2015 peace deal, its announcement adds pressure on Machar to return to South Sudan from exile.
However, fighting continues between militia forces driven by local agendas or revenge who pay little heed to paper peace deals.
Machar, who was vice-president from 2005 until he was sacked in 2013 and who has yet to return to the capital, Juba, since fleeing after war broke out, welcomed the decree.
“It is welcome news because it is a step forward in the implementation of the peace agreement,” Machar said from Ethiopia. “It means we are implementing the peace agreement as stipulated.”
A quarter of the country – 2.8 million people – needs aid, while in war-torn northern areas 40,000 are being starved to death, with violence blocking desperately needed supplies.
It was not immediately clear when Machar would travel to Juba to take up his post, and what it would take for him to feel secure enough to return. “If I get the support needed for the implementation of security arrangements, I think within a few weeks I will be able to take up my position,” he said.
Analysts warned that while Kiir’s decree may help end the war between the two sides, the violence would likely continue at local level.
Casie Copeland, from the International Crisis Group (ICG), pointed out the “fractious” nature of rebel and opposition forces, repeating previous warnings that violence was shifting into “a multi-polar war with localised conflicts”.
The peace agreement is increasingly fragile, with Kiir undermining a fundamental pillar of its power-sharing clauses by nearly tripling the number of regional states.
Kiir also signed into law on Thursday a controversial non-governmental organisations (NGO) bill, restricting the numbers of foreign aid workers, which has raised fears it will hinder efforts to help millions in need and goes against the peace agreement.
Civil war erupted when Kiir accused his former deputy, Machar, of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken country along ethnic lines.
The two leaders come from the south’s two main ethnic groups, Kiir from the Dinka and Machar from the Nuer, tribes that are themselves split into multiple and sometimes rival clans.
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Kiir and Machar are former rebel leaders who rose to power during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war between north and south, after which South Sudan seceded in 2011 to form the world’s youngest country.
The current vice-president, James Wani Igga, will remain in his post, but rank below Machar.
Both the government and rebel sides have been accused of perpetrating ethnic massacres, recruiting and killing children and carrying out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to “cleanse” areas of their opponents.
Last month, a UN panel of experts recommended sanctions on both Kiir and Machar for their role in the brutal war.
Machar said the most important thing was trying to make peace. “Do you want war to continue, or do you want to bring peace? If you want peace, then you have to follow the political will to implement the peace agreement,” he said.