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JUBA - 6 Apr 2014

Independent peace initiative launched in Juba

Three institutions in South Sudan have launched a joint platform for peace and reconciliation, which is independent of the government. The initiative is backed by leaders of the church in South Sudan.

The launch event for the National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation (NPPR) was held at Freedom Hall in Juba on Saturday.

Under this new platform, three institutions with similar remits are effectively joining their efforts, namely: the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Specialised Committee on Peace and Reconciliation in the National Legislative Assembly, and the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation.

Archbishop Daniel Deng, who chairs the latter group and also heads the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, declared the NPPR to be a “platform for all South Sudanese.”

“Today we give thanks to Almighty God because this was the day we were waiting to launch the platform. As you know, the three institutions came together… we wanted the platform to be launched today so that it is known internationally that there is now a platform for all the South Sudanese,” he said.

The archbishop said that the platform would include women, youth and civil society. He added that even the opposition forces would be invited to provide their input into the peace and reconciliation process.

“All of us are going to join together, and we will work together to see to it that every South Sudanese citizen is allowed to speak and come out with his own ideas. What is he thinking or she thinking about this country? What will be his advice, his thoughts about how this country can be done,” he said.

Deng added, “And then there are also grievances. People will be asked to tell us about their stories of grievances and what has been done to them. Of course, people are talking of justice, and we want to let everybody come out and talk so that at the end of the day all the opinions of our people are put together.”

He explained that the launch will be followed by a meeting of the NPPR executive committee on Monday, when they will decide what to do next. He says they plan to travel to all the states, and also to the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa.

VP Igga cautious

The Vice President of South Sudan James Wani Igga was invited to speak at the event in place of the president, who was visiting Omar al Bashir in Khartoum on Saturday.

Igga welcomed the initiative but cautioned that without ‘silencing the guns’ first any other process would be a ‘wasteful exercise.’

“An agreement between the warring parties is number one, it will lead to other things,” he said, “Because that agreement, by the way, will be followed by general amnesty.”

“If we don’t reach the state of an agreement, and then general amnesty, even if we hold a reconciliation conference here, the people who are supporting Riek including Riek himself will not come,” added the vice president.

The vice president clarified, “I’m not against this, let me not be misunderstood by the way,” before adding that he thought there should first be more progress politically before starting reconciliation.

“Otherwise, this start of today is intended, and I’m sure the bishop has made things clear here, as part of the series of dialogues that will go on, but unfortunately even now there is not somebody from Riek’s camp, I’m sure. So how are you going to reach peace and reconciliation? Common sense: we must first silence the guns and have general amnesty. Then we will be free to come here,” he concluded.

Church acts first

But church leaders apparently did not want to wait until a settlement was reached in political talks in Addis Ababa before initiating the new peace platform.

According to a letter by President Kiir, which was read out at the occasion by the vice president, the decision to launch the initiative was made first by the church leaders and institutions independently, with news of the decision reaching the president’s office only after the decision was already made.

Kiir stated in his letter, “It was good news for us in government and for my office in particular that the leadership of the three institutions plus other people of goodwill have taken the initiative by themselves to form this platform.”

President ‘launches’ platform

The president said the formation of the national platform “shows that we have the leadership and wisdom as people of South Sudan to solve our own problems.”

In his written remarks, the president also referred repeatedly to the ‘mandated institutions’, recalling the government mandate over the three peace-building bodies.

The peace commission was formed by presidential decree in 2006, and is headed by Chuol Rambang Luoth.

Kiir likewise decreed the formation of the Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation in April 2013, appointing Archbishop Daniel Deng as its head.

But in this case, the decree itself included a terms of reference calling the committee an ‘independent body which shall not be subject to control and direction from anybody or any institution.’

Igga, quoting the statement by Kiir, acknowledges the independence of the new national platform, while suggesting that the president gave his permission or 'blessing' for it to work independently after consultations with this cabinet minister Martin Elia Lomuro.

“My government was informed and extensive discussions were conducted by my minister for cabinet affairs. For us as government we see the platform working most effectively if it works independently,” he stated.

Yet he also accepted the “privilege as head of government to launch the national platform,” saying, “You have the blessing and support of my government and from me as president. With these remarks I launch and declare the deliberations of the national platform for peace and reconciliation open.”

‘Led by the church’

The Episcopal Archbishop says, however, that the government has ‘no hand’ in the new initiative. Nor does his church acknowledge itself subservient to the Kiir government.

“It is going to be led by the church, as also by the peace commission, and then the specialized committee within the parliament,” said Archbishop Daniel Deng.

“I’m glad today the government has come out very clearly supporting the platform and they said, as I said it, that we are independent and the government has repeated the same word, that the platform is independent,” he added.

“Nobody will try to tell us what to do. So it will be up to us now to invite all South Sudanese so that we speak out,” adds Deng.

“The challenge is that many people will be cautious thinking that this is not clear for everybody. But we will make sure we have to convince and make sure this is to be repeated again and again that this platform is independent, government has no hand in it, and we want to approach even all the opposition.”

“The people with Riek Machar, we are going to approach them, the people wherever, whoever is not happy, we are going to approach them, because we need to create a platform whereby we speak together,” he stressed.

Photo: Bishops of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Church in Juba, South Sudan, 5 April 2014 (Radio Tamazuj)