No breakthrough on South Sudan's states dispute

South Sudan leaders have failed to agree on the number of states and boundaries the country should have, even as the February 22 deadline for the formation of a unity government draws near.

The meeting between the government and the main opposition group South Sudan Liberation Movement – In Opposition (SPLM-IO) on Sunday ended without a breakthrough.  

Addressing the media after the African Union (AU) Summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, government spokesperson Michael Makuei Lueth said the meeting agreed that a referendum would be a good solution for the stalemate.  

He said opposition leader Riek Machar insisted on reducing the number of states to 10.

“Our position (government and President Salva Kiir's position) has always been clear that we are not ready to remove any single state amongst the 32 states, plus Abyei and therefore this requires the decision from the people of South Sudan,” Mr Makuei said.

A communique released following an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) meeting that took place on February 8, 2020 says the mediation effort hit a deadlock and it is now “an internal South Sudanese matter and hence [the] solution should come only from the South Sudanese people.”

During the first meeting at the AU Summit on Saturday, Mr Makuei criticised Igad’s recommendation of 23 states, arguing that the regional body was dancing to the tune of the opposition.

Last week, main opposition group SPLM-IO said it would not be part of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity if the dispute over the number of states and boundaries is not resolved.

The deadline for the formation of the unity government is February 22, some 12 days away. The deadline has been postponed twice before. Igad says "further extension is neither desirable nor feasible at this stage of the peace process."