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Renewed commitment by opposing parties in the South Sudan conflict to secure humanitarian access to provide aid for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people within the country is step forward toward active protection of civilians, ACT Alliance has said.
Speaking following a high level ecumenical delegation visit to the country last week to appeal for secured humanitarian aid access and an end to the violence, ACT Alliance General Secretary John Nduna said that the agreement signed this week by the warring parties to facilitate and support humanitarian assistance shows that there is a degree of clear political will to negotiate and reach a solution.
The agreement, a ‘Recommitment on Humanitarian Matters’ relating to the conflict, was signed by representatives of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar on Monday, 5 May.
It is a recommitment to the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement that was signed between the South Sudan government and the opposition on 23 January this year, but has been largely ignored by the two factions.
It states that parties will “consider one month of tranquillity from 7 May to 7 June 2014 in order to preposition humanitarian supplies and enable the people of South Sudan to plant their food crops, care for livestock and move to areas of safety”.
“This agreement comes at a critical time when only a small window of opportunity remains to get relief goods to those in need in remote areas,” said Nduna. “The rains have already started, and within one month access to these areas will no longer be possible for those displaced by the fighting and unable to continue with their livelihoods which will have a negative impact in the much longer term. It is absolutely urgent for the government and opposition to do their utmost to open humanitarian corridors within South Sudan and from neighbouring countries to aid to those in need.”
Since the violence broke out in December 2013, ACT Alliance members have been working to get life-saving relief supplies to thousands of people in South Sudan and for those crossing the border into Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Relief efforts have focused on distributing water, sanitation and hygiene kits, drilling boreholes, distributing relief goods, supporting mobile health clinics, offering psychosocial care and carrying out peace-building work in camps.
A high-level delegation of faith leaders, including ACT Alliance, met with church leaders and government officials from South Sudan last week. The delegation urged the parties to meet face to face, agree a ceasefire and guarantee aid agencies access to civilians in hard-to-reach and volatile areas.
According to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which is facilitating the peace negotiations, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar will meet face-to-face on Friday, 9 May for further talks.
“We hope that this meeting will mark the end of the violence and the start to a process of peace and reconciliation,” Nduna said. “And we call on the president and the opposition to this time adhere to the Recommitment on Humanitarian Matters signed on Monday. Peace is only possible if these two commit to immediately resolving their political differences and embarking on a process of national reconciliation and healing.”