South Sudan's warring parties are preparing for a second round of talks next week, aimed at revitalizing a 2015 peace deal between the government and rebel forces. The initiative, known as the High-Level Revitalization Forum, takes place February 5-16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The talks are expected to cover security and governance structures for South Sudan, the world's newest country.
Ahead of the discussions, an umbrella group of more than 20 civil society activists is calling on all parties to order their forces to adhere to a Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed in December in the first phase of the initiative.
The South Sudan Civil Society Forum wants those involved to release all political prisoners, prisoners of war, and child soldiers and issue directives to field commanders to "cease all hostilities and refrain from any unauthorized movement of forces."
Rajab Mohandis, executive director of the South Sudanese Network for Democracy and Elections, or SSuNDE, said South Sudanese were disappointed to see the agreement being violated by the warring parties just days after it was signed. But he said progress has been made in recent days.
"We have been monitoring the implementation of the cessation of hostilities closer, " he told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program. "In the past one week, the country has been largely silent and that is positive and the citizens should remain hopeful."
Mohandis said civil society activists are urging the parties to do more to ensure that their forces strictly abide by the terms of the agreement and hold to account individuals who violate the cease-fire. The activists are also calling on the government to retract recent comments declaring that non-governmental organizations need not report violations.
"When there is fighting in any part of this country, we don't take permission from them to run away from the violence," said Mohandis. "We also do not need permission to speak on these issues as long as we have credible information."
South Sudan Cabinet Affairs Minister Marti Elia Lomuro recently warned NGOs against reporting cease-fire violations. Mohandis countered that NGOs should not be restricted because they are contributing to efforts to restore peace. He said civil society activists are helping the voiceless who cannot come to the table in Addis Ababa.
The activists say the High Level Revitalization Forum risks joining the long list of failed peace processes in South Sudan's history if the parties simply replicate past models, most of which focused on power sharing.
Mohandis said the South Sudan Civil Society Forum developed principles to ensure that decisions about governance and security arrangements will serve the interests of the nation's people.
"Decision making processes and institutions should be representative of the South Sudanese public," he added. "There should be integrity and good faith by the parties. This process should be geared toward nation-building and national identity that will unify the people of South Sudan."
Mohandis said as the warring parties return to the negotiating table in Addis, South Sudanese must take ownership of the political process and ensure that all efforts contribute to lasting peace.
"To the mediators, we want to remind them that the people of South Sudan do not want to continue in war again; the ordinary citizens, who are bearing the cost of this violence," he said. "And so the role of the mediators should be to help the parties to the conflict reach an agreement."
The forum is being organized by regional trade bloc IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
South Sudan's civil war has displaced some 4 million people and created a humanitarian crisis. The internal conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, former first vice president Riek Machar. The war has driven 2 million people from the country and left more than a million others a step away from famine, according to the United Nations.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned countries of the IGAD bloc against taking sides in South Sudan's internal affairs.
Source: Voice of America