S.Sudan rebel chief refuses to sign peace deal

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar (L) and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir sign a cease fire and power sharing agreement in Khartoum, Sudan August 5, 2018. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 28 August 2018

S.Sudan rebel chief refuses to sign peace deal

  • Machar and President Salva Kiir have held weeks of talks in Khartoum in search of a comprehensive peace deal to end the conflict
  • The rebel leader refused to sign the final peace deal even as Juba inked it

KHARTOUM: South Sudan rebel chief Riek Machar on Tuesday refused to sign a final peace deal with the government, in a setback for a regional drive to end nearly five years of brutal civil war.
Machar and President Salva Kiir have held weeks of talks in Khartoum in search of a comprehensive peace deal to end the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions since 2013 in the world’s youngest country.
The warring parties have already inked several agreements, including a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal that sees Machar returning as first vice president in the government.
But on Tuesday the rebel leader refused to sign the final peace deal even as Juba inked it.
“The main South Sudanese opposition groups, including the SPLM-IO (Machar faction), refused to sign the final document demanding that their reservations be guaranteed in it,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed, who is mediating the talks, told reporters.
Officials said the rebel groups had differences over the functioning of a proposed transitional government, how many states the country should be divided into and on the writing of a new constitution.
“For the first time, the opposition told us that it will not sign,” Ahmed said, showing the draft text to reporters and diplomats who had gathered for what was expected to be a preliminary signing ceremony in Khartoum.
The rebel groups’ refusal to ink the document is a setback to the latest peace push led by regional East Africa bloc IGAD.
“This is the final document which had been arrived at after consultations between all South Sudanese parties,” Ahmed said.
“South Sudan will not have peace unless these groups sign.”
The rebels said they were surprised that the mediators had drafted the final deal despite several outstanding issues that had to be resolved.
“This is an unfortunate development that will not reflect well on the impartiality of the mediators and will throw doubt into the whole process,” the rebels said in a joint statement.
“We therefore urge the mediators to allow the parties to resolve these critical matters of contention.”
The rebel groups said they were still ready for negotiations.
The Sudanese minister said the opposition’s refusal to sign spelt the end of the current Khartoum round of talks.
“This was the last round of negotiation,” Ahmed said, adding that the mediators will submit the text to IGAD, although it was unclear when the bloc’s leaders would meet to discuss it.
Earlier this month, Kiir and Machar signed a power-sharing deal that will see the rebel leader return to the government as the first of five vice presidents.
That accord was to pave the way for a final peace deal and the formation of a transitional government that will hold power until elections are held.
But international backers of the peace process had raised doubts about whether the deal would stick given the depth of animosity between South Sudan’s leaders which dates back to the 1990s when Machar first broke ranks at the height of the war for independence from Khartoum.
“Considerable challenges lie ahead, and we are concerned that the arrangements agreed to date are not realistic or sustainable,” the United States, Britain and Norway said in a joint statement on August 10.
“Given their past leadership failures, South Sudanese leaders will need to behave differently and demonstrate commitment to peace and good governance,” they said.
South Sudan finally became independent from Sudan in 2011, but a little over two years later a fresh war erupted pitting Kiir against Machar, his former deputy.
The conflict has seen widespread rape and murder of civilians, often along ethnic lines, and uprooted roughly a third of the population.
A succession of peace deals have been signed between the two leaders only to be broken, most recently in December.
Each time, the two sides have traded blame for the breakdown and the resulting bloodshed.


US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 31 October 2020

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.