South Sudan on Wednesday called on holdout opposition groups to join a fragile peace deal as the East African country races against time to form a new government next month.
Cabinet minister Martin Elia Lomuro said the government is ready to engage the armed groups who declined to sign the September 2018 peace deal in a bid to end the five-year conflict.
"The government and the leadership of South Sudan is ready to engage with all those who have not signed the agreement and those who have concerns," Lomuro told state-owned South Sudan Broadcasting Cooperation (SSBC).
President Salva Kiir on Tuesday met Ismail Wais, special envoy of the East African regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in South Sudan, to discuss the implementation of the fragile peace deal.
Nearly seven months into the pre-transitional period, parties to the peace deal have failed to implement key provisions of the accord such as cantonment and integration of forces and delays in determining the number of states.
Several armed groups, including those led by former army chief Paul Malong and renegade general Thomas Cirilo Swaka, have so refused to ink the peace deal despite repeated efforts by IGAD to get them on board.
Lomuro said Kiir urged the IGAD envoy to continue engaging the estranged groups and convince them to lay down arms and join the path of peace. "We are ready to engage them and embrace them to come home and be part and parcel of the implementation process and find solutions," Lomuro said.
South Sudan descended into civil war in late 2013, and the conflict has created one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world. The UN estimates that about 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 collapsed following renewed violence in the capital, Juba in July 2016.
Under the new peace deal, opposition leader Riek Machar, along with four others will once again be reinstated as Kiir's deputy. But the peace agreement signed on Sept. 12 last year is already behind schedule and there are worries that the parties may not meet a May 12 deadline to form a new unity government.