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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - South Sudan, the world’s newest country and possibly one of its most unfortunate, may have finally closed its latest chapter of strife, with its rival leaders announcing the formation of a coalition unity government that many hope would survive the distrust and ethnic enmity that have defined life there for decades.
At a ceremony long on wishful rhetoric and lofty promises, President Salva Kiir declared “the official end of the war, and we can now proclaim a new dawn” after a conflict that has left some 400,000 people dead and displaced more than 2 million since 2013.
Peace, he added, is "never to be shaken ever again.” He said he had forgiven opposition leader Riek Machar and asked for his rival’s forgiveness. The latest agreement followed a series of failed attempts at peace, including one in 2016 that saw Mr Machar’s return as vice president only for him to flee again in the face of renewed hostilities.
However, mounting international pressure, including from the United States, followed the most recent peace deal in 2018, with Pope Francis kissing the feet of the two rivals in a dramatic gesture last year to persuade them to put their differences aside. Saturday's ceremony was kicked off with a photo of that gesture presented to them as a reminder of what’s at stake. Both leaders made key concessions before agreement was reached on a coalition government.
“While much work remains to be done, this is an important milestone in the path to peace,” the US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, said in a message of congratulations. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “significant achievement”.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, breaking up Africa’s one-time largest country. Its independence after decades of civil war carried so much promise, but that was soon shattered. The country slid into civil war in 2013 as supporters of Mr Kiir and Mr Machar clashed, igniting the civil war.
The region of South Sudan has seen little beside civil war since Sudan gained independence in 1956. The mainly animist and Christian south first took up arms against the Arabised and Muslim north in 1955 in a bout of civil strife that lasted until 1972.
The region did not see much of a respite, plunging into civil war against the north again in 1983. That one lasted some two decades before Khartoum agreed to grant the region the right to self-determination.
Throughout these conflicts, hundreds of thousands have been killed, including many who starved to death or succumbed to disease, and many more have been displaced. The latest war, however, is essentially tribal, pitting two of Africa’s largest Nilotic tribes - President Kiir’s Dinka and Mr Machar’s Nuer - against each other in a struggle for domination of the oil-rich region bordering Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Republic of Central Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Updated: February 23, 2020 05:16 PM
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