JUBA , SOUTH SUDAN - A top U.N. official says South Sudan's peace process is limping along and faces serious challenges that could lead to a further escalation in violence. David Shearer, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in South Sudan (UNMISS) told reporters in Juba Tuesday urgent action is needed to put the peace process back on track.
"The cabinet is meeting irregularly, and people tell me that they want to see the president and vice presidents meeting and working closely together more often. The transitional National Legislative Assembly is yet to be reconstituted, so necessary new laws are not being passed and progress on the constitution has been delayed. Critically, there has been almost no movement on the areas of security sector reform," said Shearer.
The UNMISS boss, who recently returned to Juba from New York, where he briefed the U.N. Security Council on the situation in South Sudan, said military forces that were supposed to be trained, unified, and deployed are losing hope and have started deserting the country's training centers.
"As a result of lack of food and of logistics and other things being supplied to these training centers, people started to leave, moving back. This is worrying because people are being disillusioned which leads to frustration and anger, and possibly which could mean more violence," Shearer told reporters.
He said continued delays in implementing the peace deal risk postponing elections beyond the timeline stipulated in the agreement, something he says will deny South Sudanese an opportunity to choose their leaders.
"We really do need to urgently breathe new life into the peace process. The international community and regional partners play an important role but the parties themselves must also step up their efforts to regain lost momentum," added Shearer.
While the peace process limps along, said the U.N. chief, the country's military must change its approach in dealing with U.N. peacekeepers. He noted that last month, 92 peacekeepers were blocked from deploying in Lobonok, a civilian area about 120 kilometers southeast of Juba town, which came under threat of more violence after government forces clashed with National Salvation Front rebel forces loyal to Thomas Cirilo.
"For a number of years, we have had an agreement to notify the South Sudan authorities when our peacekeepers move around the country and we do this because we have respect for the sovereignty of South Sudan. However, there is no sign of similar respect from SSPDF for our need to have freedom of movement to protect civilians and build peace," said Shearer.
He added the incident "tarnishes the reputation of the SSPDF."
SSPDF spokesperson Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang strongly denied that charge, asserting there was insufficient time given for communication regarding the movement of peacekeepers to Lobonok.
"What had happened on that day, yes, they were given permission but there was no sufficient time for our forces to be notified in advance. And as a result as they were headed there, they were stopped and were asked about where they were going and they produced the evidence showing that they were given permission.
"The only thing that was done at that particular checkpoint was for them to stop for a minute so that the commanding officer could establish communication with SSPDF general headquarters, and it was at that time that they started reporting that they had been denied access to Lobonok," Koang told South Sudan in Focus.
Shearer said the peace process "is stuck," adding that security reforms "have not moved past the first stage, where forces are trained and graduated."