South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar on Thursday were given another 100 days to form a power-sharing government after failing to resolve differences, a fresh delay that prompted a sharp US warning that the fledgling nation needed new leaders.
The two rivals, whose fallout in 2013 sparked a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead, were granted the extension after a rare face-to-face meeting held with regional heavyweights in Uganda.
It is the second time the deadline has been pushed back since the rivals signed a truce last September that brought a pause to fighting.
Both sides had agreed to join forces in a coalition government by November 12. But with the date looming and key issues far from resolved, regional leaders brokered high-level mediations in Entebbe to chart a way forward.
“It was really impossible to have them reach agreement in five days. We’ve given them three months and we will continue our engagement,” Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa told reporters following the closed-door discussions at State House in Entebbe.
The meeting “agreed to extend the pre-transitional period… and to review progress after fifty days from that date”, Kutesa said afterwards, reading from an official communique.
The United States, a major backer of the impoverished nation, voiced exasperation with the delay and said it would “review our relationship” with South Sudan’s government.
“This inability to meet their own deadline calls into question their suitability to continue to lead the nation’s peace process,” Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat of Africa, said of Kiir and Machar.
“The US is considering all possible options to put pressure on those individuals who would impede peace and promote conflict,” he wrote on Twitter.
The United States has previously threatened targeted sanctions without a prompt government formation, although an official earlier ruled out ending Washington’s roughly $1 billion in humanitarian assistance.
Nagy nonetheless voiced appreciation to the African mediators who included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads neighbouring Sudan’s sovereign council; and Kalonzo Musyoka, a special envoy from Kenya.
Violence halted –
Despite US frustration at the slow progress, some observers warned that pushing the foes to form a unity government before disagreements over security and state boundaries were resolved threatened to plunge the country back into war.
The peace deal has largely stopped the fighting that erupted just two years after South Sudan achieved independence, violence that left nearly 400,000 dead and displaced close to four million people.
“Another extension is far preferable than a return to conflict,” said Alan Boswell, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank.
“Regional mediators must step up at the highest levels to finally resolve the sticking points blocking the peace process from moving forward.”
Machar, who lives in exile in Khartoum and cannot travel freely in the region, had asked for more time so that the impasse over security and territory arrangements could be overcome.
The rebel leader warned that if these were not addressed, the country would see a repeat of fighting in 2016, when an earlier peace deal collapsed, worsening the conflict.
Machar, a former deputy to Kiir, fled South Sudan on foot under a hail of gunfire and has only returned home on rare occasions, fearing for his safety.
Kiir had said he was ready to form a new government and had threatened to do it alone.
International pressure –
The creation of the coalition government, a key pillar of the September 2018 peace deal between the rivals, had already been delayed once in May when regional leaders brokered a six-month extension.
The United Nations Security Council, on the eve of the Entebbe meeting, declared that fully implementing “all provisions of the peace agreement remains the only path that will set the country towards the goal of peace, stability and development”.
A cornerstone of the accord was that fighters from all sides would be gathered into military camps and trained as a unified army — a process dogged by delays and lack of funding.
Little progress has been made on negotiations around state boundaries — another major sticking point.
The European Union, in a statement Thursday before the extension was announced, urged the warring parties to demonstrate “genuine will to build peace” and set realistic deadlines for resolving outstanding issues.
Tshisekedi’s ally graft trial resumes after death of judge in DR Congo
A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Vital Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8. Kamerhe denied the charges again.
The graft trial of a prominent DR Congo politician resumed in Kinshasa on Wednesday, a week after the sudden death of the presiding judge.
Vital Kamerhe, a key ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, appeared in court for the third time with two co-defendants during a hearing that lasted more than seven hours.
Kamerhe, accused of embezzling more than $50 million (46 million euros) in state funds from a project to build social housing, offered his condolences to the family of Judge Raphael Yanyi, who are awaiting the results of a post-mortem.
Police said last week that Yanyi had died suddenly overnight after suffering a heart attack, while pro-democracy campaigners have called for inquiries into the cause of death.
A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8.
Kamerhe, once a pillar of former president Joseph Kabila’s rule, and appointed as Tshisekedi’s chief of staff in January 2019, once again denied the charges against him.
The defendants are accused of embezzling public funds for a project to build 1,500 pre-fabricated homes for poor people, under a “100-day” action plan launched by Tshisekedi after he took office.
Kamerhe claims that he never entered a private contract with one of his co-accused, Lebanese contractor Jammal Samih.
He said he inherited a contract signed by the former Minister of Rural Development, Justin Bitakwira.
Bitakwira, meanwhile, denied having signed an amendment to a 2018 contract to bring the total cost of the project to $57 million.
Kamerhe also defended his daughter-in-law, a student in France, who was accused of having received a gift in the form of a piece of land donated by the contractor Samih.
“Neither I nor my daughter, nobody knows about this matter,” he said.
The trial has no precedent in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent history.
It takes place in the context of a broader campaign for the “renewal” of the justice system to help root out entrenched corruption.
The biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, DR Congo has an abundance of natural resources, but two-thirds of its 80 million people live in poverty.
The country struggles with a long history of conflict, poor governance and graft.
Rwanda genocide suspect okayed for trial by UN tribunal
Felicien Kabuga attended the Paris court hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out Wednesday.
A Paris appeals court ruled Wednesday that Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga, arrested in France after evading police in several countries for 25 years, should be handed over to a UN tribunal in Tanzania to stand trial.
Accused of financing the 1994 genocide of some 800,000 people, Kabuga had asked for a trial in France, citing frail health and claiming the United Nations court in Africa would be biased against him, and possibly hand him over to Rwandan authorities.
His transfer still faces a final hurdle with defence lawyers planning to appeal the ruling at France’s highest court of appeal.
He attended the hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out.
A lawyer for the 84-year-old Kabuga said he would appeal the decision to hand him over to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which is based in The Hague but has a branch in Arusha, Tanzania.
“I was expecting this, because it’s a highly politicised case,” said one of his lawyers, Laurent Bayon.
“A transfer to Arusha, and the detention conditions there, would not allow him to survive, so a full trial would not be possible, neither for him nor the victims,” he said.
If the appeal is accepted by France’s court of cassation, a decision would be issued within two months. If it endorses his transfer, he would have one month to appear before the international court.
Described as Africa’s most wanted man, Kabuga was arrested on May 16 at his home outside Paris, where he had been living under a false name.
A judge in The Hague ruled last month, however, that Kabuga should be tried in Arusha by the MICT, which took over the duties of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda when it formally closed in 2015.
Kabuga, once one of Rwanda’s richest men, was indicted by the tribunal in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide.
He is accused of forming the notorious Interahamwe militia that carried out massacres, and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines, whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered over 100 days of ethnic violence committed by Hutu extremists in 1994.
“These are all lies. Everything I did helped the Tutsis, and my businesses offered them credit — I wasn’t going to go and kill my clients,” he told the court, speaking in Kinyarwanda. An AFP report said.
– Hiding with family’s help -The UN tribunal charged him in 1997 with “genocide” as well as “direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” using his position as chairman of Rwanda’s FDN national defence fund to funnel money to militia groups.
It noted in particular that he arranged for shipments of “an impressive number of machetes and other weapons to the Interahamwe militia”.
He is also accused of directly supervising Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, northwestern Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.
Prosecutors say Kabuga’s money and connections helped him avoid arrest for decades after he fled Rwanda for Switzerland in July 1994, though he was ordered to leave the country just one month later.
He later moved to the former Zaire and then Kenya, where he managed to avoid three arrest attempts.
In 2002, the US government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
French officials said new intelligence allowed them to track Kabuga down at an apartment in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sous-Bois, where he had been hiding out for the past three or four years with the help of his children.
Along with top-ranking military figure Protais Mpiranya, who is still at large, Kabuga was one of the most significant suspects still sought over the genocide.
Another key suspect, former defence minister Augustin Bizimana and until recently believed to have been on the run, died in 2000, the the UN tribunal said last month.
France has long been known as a hiding place for wanted genocide suspects and French investigators currently have dozens of cases underway.
South Sudan minister John Jok dies
Late Jok was South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government.
South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government, John Luk Jok has died, a government spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.
Michael Makuei Lueth, minister of information and broadcasting, described the deceased as a liberator and scholar who helped write the country’s Constitution in 2011.
“It was this Tuesday morning when I received a telephone call and informed that brother John Luk Jok has passed on. So it is true that it has happened,” Makuei told Xinhua in Juba.
He said there was no official confirmation of the cause of the death.
“We have lost a great man who contributed a lot in a liberation struggle and after liberation. He had ever been a servant of people, and with his death, we have lost a great man,” said Makuei.