, ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jun 22 – President Uhuru Kenyatta was Thursday among IGAD leaders who helped to narrow down the differences between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his former vice President Riek Machar, in an effort to restore peace in the Africa’s youngest nation.
President Kiir met for the first time, face to face with his former vice President Riek Machar, two years after their fallout.
The two leaders met and shook hands as a sign to cessation of hostilities at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Kenya has been at the forefront in efforts aimed at revitalizing the South Sudan peace process since the breakout of civil war in 2013 when President Kiir differed with his then deputy, Riek Machar.
The two leaders disagreed in less than two years after South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
The IGAD Summit took place at a time when the international community is piling pressure on the region, asking respective governments to crack down on South Sudan elite investing ill-acquired wealth in the region.
During the summit, President Kenyatta called on the two South Sudan leaders to build on the current momentum by mobilizing their citizens to support the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
President Kenyatta, who is the rapporteur of the IGAD peace process, said the Peace Agreement is fundamental in the quest to create an environment that would make South Sudan a stable and prosperous nation.
Saying security is the foundation for development, President Kenyatta called on the IGAD Council of Ministers and the IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan to engage with the parties within a fortnight and facilitate them to iron out the outstanding issues.
He said the issue of governance needed to be inclusive by allowing citizen participation so as to implement mechanisms, which will reflect the diversity of South Sudan people to entrench the desired political stability.
“Of great important is to ensure that the governance issue is not left as a preserve of the political elite. It must be inclusive and owned by the citizenry,” said the President.
He added: “My earnest call to the people of South Sudan represented by their leaders is to truly own the peace process and genuinely work towards narrowing down the differences.”
President Kenyatta urged all political actors and stakeholders in South Sudan to desist from making inflammatory statements or engaging in actions that could incite violence.
“Over time our efforts have been eclipsed by the use of violence giving credence to the call for punitive measures against perpetrators,” said President Kenyatta.
The President said the on-going conflict has led to a protracted humanitarian crisis afflicting millions of South Sudan people, and urged all parties to respect international humanitarian laws by allowing unfettered access to aid workers.
“I urge all the Parties to respect international humanitarian laws, take responsibility of protecting civilians and institute measures to ensure that humanitarian convoys and workers have access to all those in need in every part of the country,” said the President.
Speaking during the summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who is also the chairperson of IGAD, said time has come to act tough on those fuelling hostilities.
“Those perpetuating hostilities must be told what they are doing is wrong. The crisis in South Sudan is affecting all regional states and that’s why it has to come to and end,” said the IGAD chairperson.
He said the warring parties must change or risk sanctions if they try to derail efforts geared towards restoring peace.
Saying IGAD has the legitimate mandate to resolve South Sudan crisis, the Ethiopian Prime Minister urged all member States to have a common approach in resolving the conflict.
He said the crisis in South Sudan has taken far to long to resolve due to lack of political will amongst the key stakeholders.
The African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki, said South Sudan citizens have suffered for long and that his organization will use all means to ensure sustainable peace in the youngest African nation.
IGAD Executive Secretary Amb (Eng) Mahboub Maalim said the action by Kenyan leaders to resolve issues peaceful by shaking hands has been infectious globally.
“Handshake made in Kenya has been infectious globally- North Korea and the United States and closer home – South Sudan,” said the IGAD Executive Secretary.
Also present were Presidents Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (Djibouti) and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Somalia).