US 'skeptical' South Sudan's warring leaders can make peace

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The United States said Sunday it is "deeply concerned" about South Sudan's peace process and "skeptical" that President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar can oversee an end to a five-year civil war.

The White House press secretary's statement comes amid rising international frustration as Kiir and Machar pursue a fragile new peace agreement. The proposed deal once again would make Machar Kiir's deputy — an arrangement that has erupted in deadly violence.

South Sudan's civil war began in 2013 between supporters of Kiir and then-Vice President Machar. Machar returned as deputy in 2016 under a peace deal and fled the country on foot months later when fighting again broke out in the capital, Juba.

Multiple cease-fires, including a "permanent" one agreed on by Kiir and Machar last month, have been violated within hours. The fighting has killed tens of thousands, created more than 2 million refugees and left millions at home near famine.

The new White House statement says the U.S. won't fund South Sudan's government unless the peace process includes civil society, churches, women, and other excluded groups and is no longer a "narrow agreement between elites."

It adds: "In fact, such an agreement may sow the seeds of another cycle of conflict."

The U.S. is South Sudan's top donor of aid and has threatened to withhold funding in the past if the warring sides could not find a path to peace.

The new statement also condemns lawmakers' recent extension of Kiir's time in office until 2021, which the armed opposition has protested as going against the spirit of the peace talks.

The United Nations Security Council earlier this month imposed an arms embargo on the country.


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