February 15, 2020 / 10:03 AM / 3 days ago

South Sudan cuts number of states from 32 to 10, unlocking peace process

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit shakes hands with Riek Machar, ex-vice president and former rebel leader, during their meeting at the State House in Juba, South Sudan January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jok Solomun

JUBA, South Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said on Saturday he was cutting the number of states from 32 to 10, unlocking a stalled peace deal and paving the way for the formation of a long- awaited unity government.

“The compromise we have made today is a painful decision but a necessary one if that is what brings peace”, Kiir said in a statement. “I expect the opposition to be prepared to do the same.”

The regional group IGAD had given the government until Saturday to find a solution over the number of states the country should have.

Disagreement between Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar over the number of states as well as a failure to integrate different fighting forces have been major obstacles to completing the peace process.

“In general we welcome the decision taken by the president to take the country to 10 states,” said Manawa Peter, deputy spokesman of Riek Machar, adding, “this is a win win decision for the people and we commend the president for his wise choice.”

Alan Boswell, a senior analyst with the Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group, said: “This paves a path forward. The peace deal was stuck. Now the parties will need to complete the negotiations to form the long-awaited unity government.”

South Sudan’s five-year civil war erupted soon after the country’s formation in 2011 and created the worst refugee crisis in Africa since the Rwandan genocide.

Kiir and Riek Machar agreed a peace deal in 2018, pressured by the United Nations, the United States and countries in the region.

Under the deal, the two agreed to form a unity government by November 2019. They then pushed then the deadline back by 100 days, prompting Washington to recall its ambassador and impose sanctions on senior officials for their role in perpetuating the conflict.

Editing by Giulia Paravicini and Frances Kerry

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