South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has threatened to pull out of the Rome talks, accusing the holdout groups of carrying out what he described as “terror attacks”.
President Kiir said this while reacting to an incident where gunmen killed five people, including two nuns, on the Juba-Nimule highway on Monday this week.
The hold-out group has denied any involvement, citing recurring incidents on the same Juba-Nimule highway road as clear indicators of a failed state.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Kiir said his government’s acceptance to engage in talks and sign several documents to end the fighting should not be taken as a sign of weakness, but rather an indication of a commitment to resolving political issues through dialogue.
“The Government signed the Rome Declaration, the Recommitment to Cessation of Hostilities and the Declaration of Principles with the Holdout Groups with the goal of stopping the fighting and saving innocent lives,” Kiir said.
He added, “Now that the non-signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement continue to violate these commitments, the Government may reconsider its position on the ongoing Sant’Egidio led Rome Initiative. Our pursuit of an inclusive peace should never be taken for weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent.”
The South Sudanese leader wondered why criminals would target nuns from an event marking an important milestone of Christianity in the country.
Kiir emphasized that “the responsibility for their death lies squarely on the Holdout Groups, and the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity condemns this act of terror with the strongest terms possible,”
No armed opposition group has so far come out to claim any responsibility, though Kiir and members of his administration insist the attack was carried out by holdout groups.
The National Salvation Front (NAS), one of the holdout groups active in the area denied any responsibility, citing lack of presence in the area.
Reacting to the statement released by the President, NAS spokesperson, Suba Samuel Manase said on Wednesday, “first of all, the press statement of President Kiir has no meaning and I think he is just trying to avoid blame. There is nothing called SSPDF which provides security in the country. The country has collapsed,”
“The areas of Jebelein and Nesitu are controlled by the SSPDF and there are no rebels in these places, there is no NAS, and this is not the first time ambushes have taken place there. It is only that the nuns are well-known people, otherwise, common people are killed there all the time. It is the SSPDF who are robbing and killing people in those places.” He added
The opposition spokesman wondered how his troops could be involved in the attack when president Kiir and James Wani Igga, one of his five deputies in the coalition government had a heavy deployment of the forces along the road following a visit to the Nimule area.
“How can another group carry out an attack on the road with all that deployment? It is rubbish. Several times, SSPDF elements have been arrested by the National Security and police for robbing and kidnapping people on the road. They are always displayed on national television. These are the same people who did this. Even the Tiger (presidential guards) are thieves and have been arrested several times in Juba for robbery,” Suba claimed.
He noted the South Sudanese leader is free to walk out, pointing to several previous peace agreements whose terms he failed to honour.
“On withdrawing from the Sant’Egidio Rome talks, he is free to do it after all he has abrogated many agreements. ARCSS 2015, he abrogated it, this one 2018 (R-ARCSS) he is failing it and has abrogated it. So, what is special with Sant’Egidio? He can walk out,” stressed Suba.
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