In South Sudan, ceasefire monitors have warned of “appalling” violence in breach of a peace deal, despite the formation of a unity government under former rivals President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.
The fighting in South Sudan persists and involves multiple militias who now pay no heed to either President Salva Kiir or ex-rebel leader and Vice President Riek Machar. Tens of thousands have died in the civil war since it erupted in December 2013. Two million have been forced from their homes and, in a latest estimate, the UN says as many as 4.8 milion South Sudanese face severe food shortages in the coming months.
DW has been talking to Vice President Riek Machar about his crisis-ridden country and its hopes for peace and reconciliation.
DW: Now that the government of national government has been formed, what are your priorities?
Riek Machar: The first priority is stabilizing security. We need to restore peace to the country. We need to ensure that the ceasefire is respected and the culture of war is left behind and we can rebuild the state. The second is stabilizing the economy. We want to increase our production. Our people are dependent on food coming from abroad and we want them to produce their own food in the rural setup and also in the urban centers. Thirdly, we want to see that the IDPs are resettled and fourthly, we want to start the process of reconciliation and healing.
How can reconciliation be achieved in practice?
Talking about the past encourages people to move forward. They should make their livelihoods change for the better in an atmosphere of peace. They should forgive those who wronged them and they move forward.
How far advanced is the plan to include the soldiers from the opposition in the army?
We have started bringing components of the Joint Integrated Police to Juba, who we hope we will also take the Joint Integrated Police to other towns as agreed in the peace agreement.
Why is it taking so much time?
Well, the agreement says we should make use of the first 18 months before the reunification of forces. It takes time to do the selection, the training and then the reunification and the deployment of the forces.
Is there trust in the other party to the conflict?
Trust is always built. Now the hostility has been ceased, people begin to interact and they build confidence and trust.
What is you opinion about setting up a court?
There can be no national reconciliation without justice and accountability. I was surprised when I was told that the New York Times wrote a piece saying the president and I had said that this section should be scrapped. This is not right. We made our position clear.
What kind of court do you envisage?
Every court is an international court. The agreement we struck was to have a hybrid court, where we will include South Sudanese, Africa and any other international bodies.
You and the president were on opposing sides for two years. Now you are back in Juba and you have to work together. How is it going?
Well, we made a deal. We committed ourselves to the agreement. We are working together to implement the agreement and in the process we are building confidence. And we will midwife it and get to the year 2018.
Is there anyone in the govenment putting up obstacles at the moment?
Anybody who has accepted to serve in the government has accepeted peace. We don’t see any other cause besides implementing the peace agreement. I think all South Sudanese want peace. There are no people who do not want peace.
So why is there no peace yet?
In situations, tough, like our situation, there are such abrasions. They happen.
Are you planning to hold elections any time soon?
According to the agreement, we should start the process of holding elections within 24 months [by April 2018]. After 30 months, there should be a new government.
Just to touch on the economy, life in Juba seems to be very tough for people, there is high inflation, unemployment. How can this be changed?
The change is going to be slow. The government has no money, very little money if there is any. We need to step up our production for food so that we don’t have to buy imported food. Secondly, we need to increase the production of oil so that we can have hard currency to buy the things we cannot produce.
Do you regret going to war?
Well, people have regrets, but when you have no choice you get engaged in it. Then you try to correct why war was fought. Now we have an agreement that will introduce new reforms, a system which will combat impunity. There are always bad things that come out of war but there also good issues.
Former rebel leader Riek Machar is now Vice President of South Sudan.
Interviewer: Patricia Huon