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Kiir’s unilateral creation of 28 states aims to derail peace agreement: SPLM-IO

October 3, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudan’s armed opposition faction of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) said the Friday’s decree issued by president Salva Kiir to unilaterally create 28 states aimed to open up renegotiations and derail the implementation of the peace agreement which the warring parties signed in August to end the 21-month long civil war in the country.

Riek Machar answers questions during a press conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on July 9, 2014 (Photo AFP/Zacharias Abubeker)

President Kiir unexpectedly issued a presidential decree on Friday evening creating 28 states, expanding them from the current 10 states and said the new states should come into being within 30 days.

The opposition faction of SPLM-IO led by the first vice-president designate, Riek Machar, described president Kiir’s explanation as “unconvincing”, warning that the move was a serious setback for the implementation of the peace agreement unless the decision was revoked or deferred to the constitutional-making process in accordance with the peace agreement.

“The unilateral creation of 28 states by Salva Kiir aims to derail the implementation of the peace agreement. The people of South Sudan, the region and the international community at large should not allow the regime to abrogate the peace deal and drag the nation back to square one,” Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.

He said preparations for the referendum and independence of the country were “unconvincing” explanation for president Kiir’s initial intransigence during the peace negotiations and should not have been the reason for rejecting the proposal at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, saying the referendum was done four years ago and not last month.

The peace agreement president Kiir signed with the opposition leader, Riek Machar and other stakeholders, including SPLM secretary general, Pagan Amum, deferred the case of federalism and creation of more states to the constitutional making process during a transitional period which process would involve all parties to the agreement.

The South Sudanese leader however explained that he made the decision to give the power to the people in the states for better services delivery and development, criticizing his current system which he said retained people’s powers in the center for 10 years.

He also said he delayed to establish federal states because he was preparing for a referendum on self-determination since 2005 which gave birth to the new nation on 9 July 2011, adding it was therefore time to create more federal states after independence and freedom of the country.

“President Kiir’s explanation is unconvincing. There are a lot of questions. For instance, why did he reject the proposal to create 21 federal states which we presented at the negotiation table in Addis Ababa, and should have been incorporated into the peace agreement, if he was sharing the idea?” he inquired.

The 28 states idea, he said, should have been tabled by the government before the negotiators from the parties in Addis Ababa so that an agreement was reached by the parties on how many states should be created, on what basis and when they should come into effect.

The rebel official said the unilateral decision outside the peace deal would have serious implications on implementation of the agreement unless the international community steps in to save the situation.

“Salva Kiir’s unilateral decree would open up the peace agreement for further vicious cycle of renegotiation. It would have serious implications on the agreed administrative and institutional structures, as well as representation, because it would alter major provisions in the peace deal,” he said.

He argued that for instance, the agreement was based on the current 10 states and representation or power sharing was based on the current 10 states with their current executive and legislative organs, adding the alteration would need further negotiations.

The opposition would get 40% of the three states of the oil-rich Unity and Upper Nile states as well as Jonglei state and would nominate governors for the first two states, which have now been altered and split into 10 new states. It would also get 15% from the other 7 states in greater Bahr el Ghazal and greater Equatoria regions, which have also been altered by the decree into 18 new states with additional executive and legislative organs.

Dak also said the composition and representation of the Council of States, which is the upper chamber in the bicameral national legislature, would be altered by the decree. The peace agreement stipulates that the current council of states will maintain its 20 membership per representation of 2 members from each of the 10 states.

South Sudanese ambassador Gordon Buay issued a statement from Washington saying the creation of 28 states has been "popularly received (with joy) and accepted all over the country".

President kiir will appoint "Governors of 28 states within one month so that the New South Sudan Order is operational. Riek Machar will be given the right to suggest the nominees for the governorship of Southern Liech and Western Nile states as per the Compromised Peace Agreement of Seyoum Mesfin," he added.

Dak claimed experience has shown that president Kiir has “habitual disregard for the law and agreements” and would act surprisingly to the contrary depending on the mood of the day or the kind of advice he received from his inner circles.

The rebel leader’s spokesman also decried the random creation of the 28 states as problematic, saying this would also cause serious conflicts on demarcation of the would-be new boundaries, preferring the establishment of new states to be based on the former colonial districts which have borders established in 1956.

He maintained that the presidential decree by president Kiir was calculated to derail the peace process and create further inter-communal conflicts in the country.

He said the opposition leadership had already raised the new situation to the regional and international partners in the mediation to take a position and stop the government from its plans to destroy the peace deal.

Earlier, president Kiir as he was signing the peace agreement on 26 August warned that the implementation of the deal would be difficult to achieve, citing what he called “reservations”, saying the document on the agreement backed by the international community was neither the Bible nor Quran, referring to the holy books of Christianity and Islam.