Rival leaders in war-torn South Sudan face a February 22 deadline to form a long-delayed government of national unity.
But just a few days before the milestone, hopes for a breakthrough dampened after Riek Machar, a former vice president and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), expressed his dissatisfaction with a peace proposal made by his rival, President Salva Kiir.
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Announcing a “painful” compromise, Kiir on Saturday said the world’s youngest country would return to a system of 10 states from 32, a key opposition demand, plus the three “administrative areas” of Pibor, Ruweng and Abyei.
A contentious issue that has lingered for several years, the number of states is one of the main sticking points of a peace agreement that has faltered on several fronts.
While Machar said he appreciated Kiir’s decision to “revert to 10 states”, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the creation of the three administrative areas.
“The issue of the number of states is contentious because they are the political bases of the top politicians in South Sudan,” James Okuk, a lecturer of politics at the University of Juba, told Al Jazeera.
In a statement calling Kiir to reconsider his decision, Machar said the establishment of the three areas “opens up another Pandora’s box” that defeated the purpose of reverting to 10 states.
“The refusal of Dr Riek Machar to accept the … three administrative areas … is a negotiating position from [his] SPLM/A-IO – it is not rejection of 10 states,” Okuk said.