South Sudanese Minister Resigns, Says Peace Agreement is 'Dead'

Lam Akol
South Sudan's Lam Akol, pictured at a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 13, 2010, has quit the country's transitional government as its peace agreement continues to unravel. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

South Sudan's agriculture minister, an influential opposition leader, has resigned his position in the government and described the country's fragile peace agreement as "dead."

Lam Akol, who leads an opposition party known as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC), announced his resignation on Monday following renewed rounds of fighting between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the recently replaced First Vice-President, in the capital Juba in recent weeks.

"Since the agreement is dead and there is no free political space in Juba, the only sensible way to oppose this regime so as to restore genuine peace to our war-torn country is to organize outside Juba," Akol told journalists in the capital of neighboring Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, according to Africanews. Akol was one of two ministers in the unity government that was part of neither Kiir's SPLM nor Machar's opposition, known as the SPLM-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO).

South Sudan was plunged into civil war in December 2013, when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup to overthrow him. Tens of thousands were killed and more than 2 million displaced in the civil war, with sporadic outbreaks of fighting even after a peace agreement was brokered in August 2015. Machar returned to the capital to re-take up the post of First Vice-President in April.

But in July, the rival forces clashed in Juba, with more than 270 people being killed and tens of thousands of residents fleeing to neighboring Uganda. Machar fled the capital with his forces as a result and Kiir issued a 48-hour ultimatum for him to return. When Machar failed to show, Kiir swore in Taban Deng Gai, a senior figure in the SPLM-IO, as the new First Vice-President until Machar returned. The appointment was rejected by Machar as illegal.

Upon his resignation, Akol hinted that he may be willing to align with Machar's forces to oppose Kiir's administration. He stated that he was "consulting with like-minded compatriots" in order to build a national coalition, and said that the South Sudanese people would no longer tolerate a "callous, totalitarian and ethnocentric regime that seems to thrive on the suffering of its own people," according to local media outlet Radio Tamazuj.

Fighting continued over the weekend, with nine people killed in fresh clashes between Kiir and Machar's troops, according to a spokesman for Machar, Al Jazeera reported. The African Union has proposed deploying a regional intervention force to South Sudan to restore order, but Kiir's government has so far resisted. The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC)—the body responsible for overseeing the August 2015 peace agreement's implementation—met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Sunday, with the JMEC chair Festus Mogae urging the rival parties to respect the accord. "I…understand that the peace agreement was not, and should not be about the two men [Kiir and Machar]: it is about bringing badly needed peace and stability to a young nation that is too familiar with war," said Mogae in a statement.