Regional power Uganda told South Sudan’s warring factions on Tuesday to put their egos aside and make peace, a day after President Salva Kiir refused to sign a deal to end a 20-month-old conflict.
The blunt words underlined growing exasperation among African and global powers over a string of broken ceasefires and accords in the world’s newest nation. Washington had threatened sanctions on South Sudan’s leaders, while aid groups say fighting had left thousands facing severe food shortages.
Kiir asked for another 15 days to discuss the deal, shrugging off pressure from regional mediators to meet a Monday deadline for an agreement. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was earlier seen storming out of the discussions in Ethiopia.
“The Ugandan government knows how strenuous it is to achieve peace between belligerents, especially when the belligerents have big egos and when those belligerents put their personal egos above national interests,” said Ugandan government spokesman Shaban Bantariza.
“We can only continue to mediate, to encourage every side to realise that their country is superior to every one of them individually,” he added.
South Sudan, an oil producer which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into chaos in December 2013 when a political row between Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar spiralled into armed conflict that reopened ethnic faultlines.
Rights groups have accused both sides of abuses and indiscriminate killings in clashes and raids often pitting Machar’s Nuer group against Kiir’s Dinkas.
Machar signed the deal on Monday but Kiir only initialled it.
A member of the mediation team from regional bloc IGAD told Reuters Kiir had reservations over the proposal’s plan to demilitarise the capital, Juba.
The official added Kiir had sought to scrap a provision that called for consultations with Machar on “powers, functions and responsibilities” he would exercise in any future administration.
Western diplomats urged Kiir to accept the deal swiftly.
“The humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan is huge. We need the guns to fall silent,” Tobias Ellwood, Britain’s minister for Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, told journalists on Monday.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, said she was behind IGAD’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire and humanitarian access to the South Sudanese population.
“Failing to comply would entail consequences,” her office said in a statement.
Fighting has killed more than 10,000 people and forced more than 2 million to flee their homes in one of Africa’s poorest countries.