The setting up of a unity government in South Sudan is expected to be further delayed – a fresh setback in efforts to end a brutal conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Despite missing key deadlines, warring parties were scheduled to establish a transitional government by Friday after a peace deal was signed by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in August.
But progress has been slow and analysts said it was now highly unlikely that Machar would return to the capital Juba from his HQ in the bush to take part.
Al Jazeera’s Anna Cavell, reporting from Juba, said Machar’s delegation was supposed to be in the capital by Thursday before the planned formation of the government on Friday.
“They are still not here and there is absolutely no chance that this government will by formed by the deadline of January 22,” Cavell said.
At the heart of the latest delay is a decision by Kiir in October to split South Sudan’s 10 states into 28 states.
The surprise move voided key parts of the the unity government agreement and opponents have argued that it was not taken in in the spirit of the peace deal, which was based on a 10-state model.
Machar has since said that he will not agree to a new government unless Kiir withdraws the plan to create the new states.
“This has been a huge issue for the opposition [who] have said they cannot tolerate it,” Cavell said.
“Not only that, it actually delays the bureaucratic process because the constitution of the transitional government was formed on the basis of 10 states.
“If there are going to be 28 states that becomes void and everybody has to return to the drawing board and draw a whole new constitution – a process that the government says will take at least four weeks and probably more like eight.”
South Sudan descended into conflict in December 2013 after Kiir accused his former deputy Machar, who he had sacked earlier that year, of plotting a coup.
The clashes that followed set off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the world’s newest country, which won its independence from Sudan in 2011, along ethnic lines.
At least eight ceasefires or power-sharing deals have been broken since the start of the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than two million.
Thousands of child soldiers have fought in the conflict, used as foot soldiers by both government and opposition forces, according to human rights groups.
A UN report said on Thursday that all sides were guilty of atrocities, including hundreds of extra-judicial killings, gang rapes, sexual slavery, massive child soldier recruitment and indiscriminate attacks against civilians with entire villages burned.
The report said that from the middle of 2015, a new pattern emerged, particularly in the central and southern counties of Unity state, with entire villages being burned down, food crops destroyed and livestock looted.
“There are indications that this may have been a deliberate strategy by the government or [the army] aimed at depriving civilians of any source of livelihood with a view to forcing their displacement,” the report said.
It also documented at least 280 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, as well as a sharp increase in child recruitment, estimating that between 13,000 to 15,000 child soldiers were being used by both government and opposition forces as of December last year.
Source: Al Jazeera