South Sudan’s Cabinet has extended President Salva Kiir’s current term until July 2017, a government official said on Saturday, defending the decision as necessary to avoid what he called a vacuum amid ongoing peace talks with rebels.
The decision, which will have to be endorsed by lawmakers, also extends the term of the current parliament for two more years, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told The Associated Press.
Kiir’s term as president of the world’s newest country was set to expire in July.
“We want to give peace a chance … because we are optimistic that a peace deal will be signed,” Lueth said.
Holding elections in 2017 will resolve “any legitimacy issues” that might arise in the event that a power-sharing agreement is signed between South Sudan’s warring factions, he said.
South Sudan has seen sporadic fighting since December 2013 as government forces loyal to Kiir, a member of the dominant Dinka ethnic group, try to put down a rebellion led by former Vice President Riek Machar, who is of Nuer ethnicity. The fighting has often been along ethnic lines.
Machar had been Kiir’s deputy until July 2013 when he was fired amid a power struggle in the country’s ruling party. It is widely believed that the political rivalry between Kiir and Machar fueled the current conflict in South Sudan — the reason many international observers and diplomats say a political solution is needed to bring peace to the country.
Kiir’s office, in a statement released Friday, said the government is struggling with the idea of sharing power with rebels led by a former vice president who is likely to return to that post if a unity government is established.
Peace talks are expected to resume in neighboring Ethiopia later this month.
Although the warring factions have signed many peace agreements, none has resolved the conflict. This week South Sudan’s government accused rebel forces of launching attacks on government positions in the oil-producing states of Upper Nile and Unity.
Source: The Washington Post