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South Sudan Faces New Obstacles To Implementing Peace Deal


At one time, hopes were high that South Sudan would be an African success story. It became the newest country in the world when it broke away from Sudan in 2011. But a civil war has since displaced millions of people, and skirmishes have continued despite a peace deal signed last August. NPR's Jason Beaubien and Kelly McEvers have been reporting in South Sudan all week, and they're with us now. And Kelly, I want to start with you. This peace deal hasn't been fully implemented. What's the holdup?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: I mean, I think it's important to remember that South Sudan is a place that has been at war for a long time. First, there was this split, as we said, from Sudan. And now for the past two years, there's been a split within South Sudan, and that is a split between the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his vice president, Riek Machar. Riek Machar is now in Ethiopia. He's been in exile, so this peace deal calls for him to return here to South Sudan. And he says he is willing to do that, but he says - and this is part of the peace agreement, too - he wants to bring his troops with him.

There's supposed to be an equal number of troops here in the capital - president's troops and vice president's troops. The problem is, he says, he doesn't have the money to do this. And the United States, the U.K. and Norway have offered to pay, but they also say that it will take several weeks to get it going.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: And at the same time, you've got this massive economic crisis going on because the IMF and the World Bank are refusing to lend money to South Sudan because they don't have a government that they recognize, and the inflation is just through the roof at the moment. Its prices are going up, you know, just tripling within a month, so things are really difficult. And there's really no end in sight to the monetary crisis until they come up with a political solution.

CORNISH: So let's say the vice president comes back and a peace deal is implemented. Is there a sense that things would get back to some kind of normal?

MCEVERS: Well, then there's this other problem. South Sudan originally had 10 states, and what the president, Salva Kiir, is doing before the vice president even comes back is saying South Sudan should have 28 states. And this is something that is not part of the peace agreement. A lot of analysts here say it's basically sort of a thumb in the eye of the people who put the peace deal together, and the vice president himself does not support these 28 states.

BEAUBIEN: And it's a huge problem because President Salva Kiir - his side is imposing this on everyone else. And there's great concern that it's also being - that the country's being divided up along ethnic lines - that the president has basically given the spoils of the war - the oilfields, the best towns, the areas that are most desirable - to his side and is giving the other ethnic groups who basically didn't succeed in the civil war the rest. So this is a really contentious issue at the moment about this new plan for 28 states.

MCEVERS: And so these new 28 states are now also giving way to some ethnic violence here in the country. Jason's been reporting on one attack in a camp in a place called Malakal.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, and what happened was that basically, we've got what had been said to be credible reports - even the U.N. Security Council has said credible reports - that government troops attacked a U.N. camp for internally displaced people, and they basically drove out certain ethnic groups and burned all of tens of thousands of their houses to the ground.

CORNISH: Wait a second. You mentioned the U.N. reporting on this. Aren't these supposed to be U.N.-protected sites? I mean, where is the U.N. in all of this?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. Locals are complaining that the U.N. peacekeepers aren't doing enough. The U.N., on - for their part, says they're doing the best they can to keep the peace in these camps. The U.N. blames that fighting in Malakal on ethnic tensions inside the camp. A spokesperson for the U.N. here even told us that it's a miracle that something like this hasn't happened before in Malakal.

CORNISH: All right. Finally, Kelly, what happens next?

MCEVERS: I mean, this seems like this is a real moment here. You have the U.S. and other international donors saying implement this peace deal; you know, bring back the vice president. And the peace deal also involves a reconciliation process, so the people we're talking about who are living in these camps can go home, and the country can get started again.

But then we did talk to this youth activist, and he said, you know, the elites here in South Sudan - all they know is war. This country's been at war for decades. That's how they solve problems. They solve problems with fighting. He says, you know, a huge portion of this country is under 35 years old, and most of us - the young people - we're sick of war. We support dialogue. So it will be really interesting to see which way this goes - if it goes toward more war or if it goes toward dialogue.

CORNISH: That's my co-host on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED Kelly McEvers and NPR's Jason Beaubien. They're reporting from Juba, South Sudan. Thank you so much.

BEAUBIEN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
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