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South Sudan’s civil war between the government and opposition forces has killed around 300 thousand people and displaced over 3.5 million. Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia report receiving over 1.5 million refugees. Previous ceasefire agreements brokered by IGAD have been violated within days and have failed to bring about a sustainable solution. James Pitia Morgan is the current South Sudanese Ambassador to Ethiopia. He says that South Sudan’s peace is sustainable only if rebels help solve the problem democratically.
Capital’s Reporter Tesfaye Getnet spoke with him to learn more about what is happening in the war and what can be done to alleviate the situation. Before independence, on July 9, 2011, he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Sudan. He has also been an ambassador to India and Kenya. Excerpts;
Capital: Can you respond to rumors that South Sudan would like Ethiopia to discontinue its role as a mediator in the peace process?
James Pitia Morgan: I am not aware of anything. What I know is the Government and the people of South Sudan are not satisfied with the process itself. First, there is a lot of interference from non IGAD member States; for instance, the Troika, (US, UK and Norway). These three countries are not supposed to run the show, first they are not members of IGAD, second, they are not members of the African Union. The people of South Sudan are very much frustrated with their meddling in the region as well as in the continent.
Another point is that, the rules of establishment of IGAD are very clear, thus; no IGAD Member State should harbor rebels, who are seeking to overthrow an elected government of another IGAD member State. But this rule is not being observed by many IGAD countries. Rebels fighting the Government of South Sudan, a member State of IGAD are being harbored in many IGAD countries that is why achieving peace in South Sudan, has become difficult if not impossible.
Surely, there might be some voices out there, which feel that peace talks should be conducted in a country that is completely neutral from both harboring the rebellion in order to provide a level ground for conducive mediation. But that has not been the position of the Government of South Sudan.
Capital: Many political experts suggest that a transitional government is the best tool to curb the long dispute and war in South Sudan what do you think about this?
James Pitia Morgan: The Government of South Sudan is currently a Transitional Government of National Unity. The point is that some of the political parties that signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), were not committed to its implementation, for instance Dr. Riek Machar went to Juba from Addis Ababa on 29/04/2016 and was sworn in as the First Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan, according to the Agreement, but on July 8, 2016, he staged another military coup inside the Presidential Palace with the aim of assassinating the President and seizing power by force of arms!
The second group is that calling itself, Former Political Detainees (FDS).This group was a party to the same Agreement, but the Agreement allotted them two (2), Ministerial Portfolios, and there were only ten of them. So the other eight who did not get ministerial positions, rebelled again, and continued to work against the Transitional Government of National Unity of which they are a party according to the August 2015 Agreement.
Presently, the IGAD ongoing peace process is talking about revitalizing the same agreement. The question is, will the revitalized agreement come up with ministerial positions that will accommodate all these groups? This is because the ongoing crisis is all about power, nothing else.
Capital: IGAD is doing a fund raising job to facilitate the work in the peace building process, what is your government doing to help IGAD reach their goals?
James Pitia Morgan: I don’t think, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is in a position for fundraising, given the economic crisis the country is currently passing through.
Capital: Will your government allow Rick Machar to do his political work if he comes to South Sudan?
James Pitia Morgan: On the question of Dr. Riek Machar, the President of the Republic has just recently indicated that, Riek Machar is a South Sudanese citizen, and he is free to return to the country as long as he does not create instability. Riek Machar was asked to denounce violence, so that the country heals from the ongoing animosity. He was also told to participate in the coming General Elections.
Capital: The recent peace accord signed last January was not fully respected both by the government and rebel groups. Why do you think this is?
James Pitia Morgan: On December 21, 2017 the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, signed a Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and accessibility of the relief assistance for the needy population throughout the country. But the rebels of Dr. Riek Machar did not respect their commitment to this agreement. Secondly, the JMEC and the CTSAMM have failed to monitor the ceasefire, and this is not the first time, they have done so. In most cases, cease fires, have not been respected due to the weakness of the above institutions; for example, JMEC and CTSAMM.
Capital: Many people have died and women have been raped and millions have fled their homes what can be done to stop the humanitarian crisis?
James Pitia Morgan: In any war situation, people die, and some criminal activities, such as rape and other malpractices always take place. The Government of the Republic of South Sudan has always tried its best to protect the lives and the properties of the civilians, but the rebels, have acted contrary to these principles. It is obvious that some of the stories, reported by the UN agencies on the ground are not true. We have a case which was reported in one of the Refugees Camps in Gambela that a woman was forced to eat her own baby after the baby was thrown into a burning house, which was set ablaze by the Government forces. This never happened, and it was just a lie, but the United States Secretary of State, Nikki Haley, took it to be a real story. In this case, most of the reported stories are mere propaganda, and are not true.
Capital: Is oil in South Sudan the reason behind the long conflict?
James Pitia Morgan: No, the fight in South Sudan is the reason for its oil. We have a lot of oil, which has yet to be explored. But yes, other parties that seem to be forcing the solution of their own might have been driven by interest in the oil. But this is up to those parties, which want to impose their own solution in order to own the oil in South Sudan but the oil belongs to the people of South Sudan.
Capital: How is your government working with the South Sudanese Diaspora for peace in your country?
James Pitia Morgan: The Government of South Sudan has always reached out to the Diaspora to be part of the solution in the ongoing conflict. The Diaspora is sometimes divided according to its own interest. But the Government remains committed to engage the Diaspora.
Capital: What do you think of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister?
James Pitia Morgan: The Policy of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is always guided by the principles of non interference in the internal affairs of its neighbors. The resignation of the former Prime Minister of our sisterly and neighboring Ethiopia involved the internal affairs of the Ethiopian people, whom we do dearly respect. South Sudan looks forward to fully working and cooperates with the New Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed and the people and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, wish him all the best and success to bring peace, unity and prosperity of our region.
Capital: Recently a UN expert conducted a report on the current situation in South Sudan. The African Union peace and security council sent its delegation to perceive the situation on the ground, how do you see the role of international actors towards the stability of South Sudan?
James Pitia Morgan: The Government and the people of South Sudan feel that the international actors in the ongoing peace process spearheaded by IGAD should be left to the Region and the AU, which are our regional and continental bodies. On the onset of this interview, I did make it clear that Troika seems to be taking a lead in the IGAD peace process, which the people of South Sudan are not comfortable with, their meddling in the African issues makes it difficult for Africa to put it into practice its slogan that: African problems need African solutions.