South Sudanese leaders agree deal to pave way for a unified army

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President Salva Kiir of South Sudan has reached an agreement with old nemesis Riek Machar that will allow two competing armed forces to join, according to a cabinet minister, in a potential breakthrough for the stumbling peace process.

Since independence in 2011, the world’s newest country has faced with chronic instability, with Kiir and Vice President Machar trapped in an uneasy coalition following the end of a five-year civil conflict.

The declaration on Saturday raises hopes that the country’s fragile peace process can break free from years of drift and bickering and lead to the establishment of an united military forces command, which was a crucial component of the 2018 truce accord.

However, a spokeswoman for Machar denied to AFP that an agreement had been struck, indicating persistent mistrust between the two sides and the potential for any arrangement to fall apart.

The minister of cabinet affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro, had earlier told a press conference that the two had reached an agreement on a power-sharing pact to split authority of the country’s national security command.

“We have now arrived at the correct strategy, and it has been agreed that we will now… share 60:40 percent,” Lomuro added, referring to Kiir’s party keeping the majority share and the rest going to Machar and a few opposition groups.

According to him, the agreement will allow “to develop one unified security sector dedicated to the people of South Sudan rather than a political party or political group.”

However, Machar’s spokeswoman, Puok Both Baluang, told AFP that the news was “not genuine,” and that the two parties had already discussed a 50:50 split.

The commander-in-chief of the country’s national forces, as well as the commanders of army and police units, make up the national security command’s leadership.

If accepted, the long-awaited accord will allow Kiir and Machar’s competing forces to integrate into a single army, providing a vital guarantee against future violence while also bringing security to lawless portions of the nation. The 2018 ceasefire and power-sharing agreement brought an end to a conflict that claimed almost 400,000 lives, but questions lingered, with many of Machar’s top cadres arguing that they had lost out under the ruling party’s arrangement.

Machar’s opponents announced earlier this month that they had deposed him as leader of his party, a move his backers denounced as a “failed coup” but which raised concerns about the delicate peace process.

The squabbles, according to Machar, were intended to disrupt the process.

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