South Sudan’s rival leaders began two days of meetings in Addis Ababa on Thursday in a bid to salvage the country’s stalled peace deal.

President Salva Kiir, main opposition leader Riek Machar and a group of other opposition leaders signed the peace deal in September 2018.

The accord, brokered by the East African bloc IGAD, is nearing the formation of a unity government on 12 May. But unifying a national army, drawing internal boundaries and passing a constitution are lagging far behind schedule.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) said in a press release that representatives of the parties began a meeting today.

Government has called for the formation of the unity government on 12 May, saying any delay to the formation of the government would crush the hopes of citizens for peace.

But Machar, who should regain his post as first vice president under the peace deal, asked for a delay of six months, saying it was not safe for him to return to Juba without proper security arrangements.

"The meeting is of great significance at this time of the South Sudan peace process as the Pre-Transitional period of the peace agreement comes to an end in just under two weeks," said the IGAD Special Envoy to South Sudan, Ismail Wais.

"The purpose of convening this meeting is to critically reflect on where we are at to-date with the implementation of the Pre-Transitional tasks of the Agreement and concretely address discuss mechanism of expediting what still needs to be undertaken going forward including its resource implications," he added.

According to the interim head of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Augostino Njoroge, 59 key tasks were required to be implemented prior to the beginning of the transitional period.

Njoroge said, "to-date, 27 out of the 59 (tasks) have been completed; 17 are ongoing and 15 are pending. Unfortunately, the pending tasks are the most critical and consequential to the implementation of the Agreement."

He pointed out that in spite of moderate progress made, challenges continue to undermine the implementation of the peace deal, referring specifically to the "delayed establishment of some institutions and mechanisms, financial constraints, capacity gaps and lack of coordination." 

“My greatest concern is the delayed operationalization of the cantonment sites, despite my repeated appeal to the Parties to expedite this process. To my knowledge, as I speak, there is not a single cantonment site that is operational,” he continued.

The interim chairperson told the participants: “The outcomes of this meeting will be critical in informing my recommendation to the IGAD leadership, galvanizing public trust in the peace process and will demonstrate your commitment to implement the Peace Agreement. I appeal to all of you to maintain the spirit of trust and confidence that you have nurtured together over the past months.” 

The meeting is expected to deliberate on a roadmap towards the formation of a unity government and accelerating the pending tasks.

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