South Sudan rebel leader in Juba in bid to salvage peace deal

Riek Machar, left, greets South Sudan President Salva Kiir, right, on his arrival in Juba, South Sudan. (AP Photo)
Updated 09 September 2019

South Sudan rebel leader in Juba in bid to salvage peace deal

  • Machar landed in the capital in a Sudanese plane, preceded by two jets carrying a large delegation of around 60 people from Khartoum where he is living in exile
  • South Sudan descended into war in 2013, just two years after the country gained independence, when Kiir accused his former deputy of plotting a coup

JUBA: South Sudan’s exiled rebel leader Riek Machar arrived in Juba on Monday for the first time in a year and held rare talks with President Salva Kiir as the rivals try to salvage a stalled peace agreement.
Machar landed in the capital in a Sudanese plane, preceded by two jets carrying a large delegation of around 60 people and security officers from Khartoum where he is living in exile, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Machar’s visit is expected to last two days, and comes as November deadline looms to form a power-sharing government, a key plank in a 2018 peace agreement that has been delayed by disputes over its terms.
“Our meeting concentrated on security arrangements, because it is one of the fundamental provisions of this agreement,” Machar’s deputy, Henry Odwar, told reporters after Kiir and Machar met at State House.
“We do have challenges and we pray that we overcome those challenges.”
Images on social media showed Kiir shaking hands and sitting at a table with Machar, flanked by the South Sudanese flag.
Kiir had not been seen with Machar since the pair met in the Vatican in April, when Pope Francis stunned the world by kissing the feet of two men accused of responsibility for heinous war crimes.
South Sudan descended into war in 2013, just two years after the country gained independence, when Kiir accused his former deputy and fellow former rebel leader Machar of plotting a coup.
Multiple attempts at peace have failed but in September 2018 the warring parties signed an agreement to form a unity government, which would see Machar return to government as vice president.
The last time Machar was in Juba was October 2018, for celebrations to mark the signing of the pact.
The power-sharing arrangements under the peace deal were supposed to take effect in May. But the process was delayed by six months until November.
Crucial technical steps contained within the agreement, such as creating a unified army and agreeing on the internal boundaries of states, have failed to make progress.
Alan Boswell, a South Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group (ICG), said the only solution was Kiir and Machar coming to a political agreement on how to move forward with the deal.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. The only way to find a path forward is for these two to meet. The path is wide open for them to form a unity government but they will need to strike new political deals to do that,” he told AFP Monday.
“If they fail to agree on a way forward with direct talks then we are looking at a major crisis.”
Following their extraordinary meeting in the Vatican, Kiir told parliament he had forgiven Machar, and urged his rival to return home.
But Machar has been concerned about his personal security should he return to the capital.
He fled on foot under a hail of gunfire when a previous peace deal collapsed in July 2016.
He is currently living in Khartoum, the capital of neighboring Sudan, the country from which South Sudan broke away to claim independence in 2011.
He was accompanied to Juba by Sudanese paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who is best known by his nickname “Hemeti,” and who is holding separate peace talks with Sudanese armed groups.
Sudan has been engaged in its own bloody transition toward peace since the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir in April.
Kiir urged the Sudanese groups to negotiate “in good faith” to bring peace to the region.
“I believe that we are one, and facing the same problem. If there is no peace in Sudan, there will be no peace in South Sudan,” Kiir said.
The fighting in South Sudan has left about 380,000 people dead and forced more than four million South Sudanese — almost a third of the population — to flee their homes.


200,000 dead as Trump vilifies science, prioritizes politics

Updated 4 min 57 sec ago

200,000 dead as Trump vilifies science, prioritizes politics

NEW YORK: With the nation’s COVID-19 death toll at 200,000, President Donald Trump is engaged in an ongoing war against his administration’s own scientists.
Over the past six months, the Trump administration has prioritized politics over science at key moments, refusing to follow expert advice that might have contained the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease, COVID-19, it causes. Trump and his people have routinely dismissed experts’ assessments of the gravity of the pandemic, and of the measures needed to bring it under control. They have tried to muzzle scientists who dispute the administration’s rosy spin.
Just last week, Trump described Dr. Robert Redfield, a virologist and head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as “confused” because he said a vaccine was not likely until late 2021. Trump, without evidence, said it could be ready before the election.
While there is no indication that Trump’s desperation for a vaccine has affected the science or safety of the process, his insistence that one would be ready before the election is stoking mistrust in the very breakthrough he hopes will help his reelection.
The Trump vs. science dynamic has been evident from the very beginning.
In late January, after the virus had first emerged in Wuhan, China, the CDC launched its emergency operations center. What was needed, epidemiologists said, was aggressive public education and contact tracing to identify and isolate the first cases before the disease spread got out of control.
Instead, Trump publicly played down the virus in those crucial first weeks, even though he privately acknowledged the seriousness of the threat.
“I wanted to always play it down,” the president told journalist Bob Woodward in March.
By mid-March, hospitals in New York and elsewhere were deluged with patients and storing bodies in refrigerated trucks.
On March 31, the nation was still grappling to understand the scope of the pandemic. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stood next to the president to explain jaw-dropping death projections. The doctors said unless the country adopted masks, practiced distancing and kept businesses closed there would be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.
They stressed that if the U.S. adopted strict measures, the deaths could remain under 100,000.
“We would hope that we could keep it under that,” Trump said then.
Still, instead of issuing a national mask mandate, the Trump administration within weeks posted its “Opening Up America Again” plan.
The CDC began developing a thick document of guidelines to help decision-making about reopening. But the White House thought the guidelines too strict. They “ would never see the light of day, ” CDC scientists were told. The Associated Press would eventually release the 63-page document which offered science-based recommendations for workplaces, day care centers and restaurants.
The predictable happened: Cases surged after communities reopened, and hope for keeping the death toll under 100,000 vanished.
CDC recommendations continued to be routed through the White House task force for vetting before release.
Redfield has been criticized for not being a strong enough defender of the agency, and those who long worked at the CDC hope to see its leadership stand up for science in the face of politics.
“I’m sure this won’t be easy, but it’s essential to CDC’s reputation,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a 20-year CDC veteran and medical professor at the University of Florida. “We need a strong and trusted CDC to get ourselves through this pandemic — as well as through the next public health emergency after this one.”
Even as Fauci was restricted in his media interactions — his candor did not wear well with the administration — Trump elevated a new public face for his pandemic task force: Dr. Scott Atlas, a Stanford University neurologist with no infectious disease background.
In Atlas, Trump has a doctor who has downplayed the need for students to wear masks or social distance. Atlas has advocated for allowing the virus to run amok to create “herd immunity,” the idea that community-wide resistance can be built by infecting a large portion of the population. The World Health Organization has discredited the approach as dangerous.
White House officials say Atlas no longer supports it.
As Fauci said in August, there is “a fundamental anti-science feeling” at a time when some people are pushing back at authority.
At the same time, at least 60 state or local health leaders in 27 states have resigned, retired or been fired since April, according to a review by the AP and Kaiser Health News. Those numbers have doubled since June, when the AP and KHN first started tracking the departures. Many quit after political pressure from public officials, or even violent threats from people angry about mask mandates and closures.
The White House has realized there is a downside to publicly undermining science. Officials recognize voter concerns about speeding the vaccine production timetable as an emerging public health crisis too. They say they’re worried there will be unnecessary deaths and economic impact if Americans are afraid of getting vaccinated, according to two White House officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The administration has ordered a campaign to bolster public confidence in the development process. It would include elevating the profiles of Trump targets like the FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and the CDC’s Redfield.
One person is not on board — Trump. Less than seven weeks from Election Day, he appears driven to say and do what he sees as necessary to secure a second term, whether backed by science and evidence or not.
And despite the grim death toll, the president continues to frame the past six months as a success.
Trump told a raucous Ohio crowd at a rally Monday: “We’re going to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year. But it could be a lot sooner than that.”