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Former rebel leader Riek Machar flanked by President Salva Kiir addresses a news conference at the State House in Juba [Jok Solomun/Reuters]
Former rebel leader Riek Machar flanked by President Salva Kiir addresses a news conference at the State House in Juba [Jok Solomun/Reuters]

South Sudan has opened a new chapter in its fragile emergence from the civil war with rival leaders forming a coalition government.

Opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in on Saturday as the deputy of President Salva Kiir a day after the previous government was dissolved.

“I do hereby swear that I shall be faithful and bear diligence to the Republic of South Sudan,” Machar said in his oath in front of a room packed with diplomats, as well as the leader of Sudan, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and other regional representatives.

Hugs and applause followed Machar’s swearing-in.

That power arrangement between Kiir and Machar twice collapsed in fighting during the conflict that began in 2013 and killed nearly 400,000 people.

Numerous attempts at peace in South Sudan have failed. Intense international pressure has followed the most recent peace deal in 2018.

Kiir and Machar in the past year pushed back two deadlines to take the crucial step of forming the coalition government. But on Thursday, two days before the deadline, they announced they had agreed to form a government meant to lead to elections in three years.

“Finally, peace is at our doorstep,” a reporter with the United Nations-backed Radio Miraya declared from Bor in long-suffering Jonglei state.

In Yambio, youth with flags were reported in the streets.

“I rejoice with the South Sudanese, especially the displaced, hungry and grieving who waited so long,” the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted.

“While much work remains to be done, this is an important milestone in the path to peace,” the United States embassy said in a congratulatory message.

Holding South Sudan politicians accountable

Kiir and Machar have said outstanding issues will be negotiated under the new government.

Tens of thousands of rival forces still must be knitted together into a single army, a process that the UN and others have described as being behind schedule and poorly provisioned.

Observers have stressed that this new government must be inclusive in a country where fighting has often occurred along ethnic lines and where several armed groups operate. Not all have signed on to the peace deal.

Other vice presidents named by Kiir on Friday include Taban Deng Gai, a former ally of Machar who switched to the government side and last month was sanctioned by the US over involvement in serious human rights abuses. Another is Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang, who led a long fight for independence from Sudan.

The humanitarian community, which has seen more than 100 workers killed since the civil war began, hopes the new government will lead to far easier delivery of food and other badly needed support as roughly half of South Sudan’s population of 12 million remains hungry. Some 40,000 are in famine conditions, a new report said on Thursday, and now a major locust outbreak in East Africa has arrived.

Another more than 2 million people fled South Sudan during the civil war, and Kiir has urged them to come home.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has warned that serious abuses continue.

“Today in South Sudan, civilians are deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice,” its latest report said.

It noted that scattered deadly violence, the use of child soldiers, repression and sexual violence imperil the fragile peace.

News agencies