Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Pagak, South Sudan - Internal scuffles, uncompromising language and 180-degree turns marked the days leading up to the August 17 deadline to sign a peace agreement, leaving observers confused and with little hope for a viable deal to end almost 20 months of bloodshed in South Sudan.
Last week, senior generals and politicians split from the opposition group, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), accusing rebel leader Riek Machar of self-interest and poor leadership.
This prompted President Salva Kiir's government to pull out of the talks on August 14, calling on the opposition to sort out its differences first.
Amid rising international pressure and threats of additional sanctions, Kiir reversed his decision and travelled to Addis Ababa on Sunday, but evaded signing a deal by demanding a 15-day extension.
But, rebel leader Riek Machar, unaware that Kiir wasn't signing, endorsed the document.
As President Kiir looked on, Pagan Amum, recently reinstated as the secretary-general of the SPLM, South Sudan's ruling party, signed the agreement on behalf of the former detainees, a group of high-ranking politicians briefly jailed by Kiir's government in the early days of the conflict.
The negotiations are left with half a peace agreement, and only Kiir's promise to return in two weeks to seal the deal. The mediators of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which supports the mediation process by monitoring, investigating and reporting compliance, insisted that yesterday's events were an important stride in the right direction.
"We expect them to come back in 15 days and sign," said Abdeta Beyene, chief of staff for the IGAD Special Envoys to South Sudan office.
But strong reservations about the contents of the document on both sides, as well as the amount of pressure needed to bring the warring leaders together, raise questions about the viability of the 11th hour deal, analysts said.
"There is a lot of reluctance on both sides. We have seen agreements signed before that haven't been adhered to, and I'm sceptical about how this peace deal would be enforced," said Emmanuel Kisiangani, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Nairobi.
Previous ceasefire agreements brokered by IGAD were violated within days and failed to bring a sustainable solution to a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands, displaced over 2 million, and left 4.6 million at risk of starvation in the world's newest nation.
[The rebel rift] makes the situation much more murky. Even if Machar goes into the government, it doesn't mean the conflict will stop.
Both government and rebels have criticised IGAD for trying to impose a solution for the sake of signing an agreement, while not paying sufficient heed to the concerns of the two sides.
"The mediators have lost their mission, they have become negotiators. There is a language of threat being used," Michael Makuei Lueth, Minister of Information and Broadcasting and spokesperson for the government's negotiating team, told Al Jazeera last week.
New power sharing formula
The compromise agreement put forth by IGAD last month, a copy of which Al Jazeera obtained from the rebel faction, laid out a political settlement that sought to appoint Riek Machar to the position of first vice president as part of a reconstituted transitional government.
Moreover, the rebels were to be granted 33 percent of power in the national government and 53 percent of legislature seats in the three most conflict-affected states.
Yet, the government has repeatedly rejected the notion of granting the rebels a majority in any state.
The rebels, on the other hand, demanded a greater share of power across South Sudan.
"There are obviously gaps in Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal. The government has been given 100 percent of seats, which is ignoring facts on the ground," Riek Machar told Al Jazeera before the rebels' leadership meeting in early August.
In an effort to strike a compromise, yesterday's agreement reduced the share of seats given to the SPLM-IO from 53 to 40 percent in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei States, while granting them 15 percent in all other states.
The government is to take 46 and 85 percent of seats, respectively, Hailemichael Gebreselasie, IGAD communications officer, told Al Jazeera.
According to Gebreselasie, the power sharing ratios for the national government remained unaltered with 53, 33 and 14 percent of seats allocated to the government, the SPLM-IO and other political parties, respectively.
The government remained reluctant, however, to endorse the post of a first vice president.
"We are not ready to solve a problem by creating another problem," said Lueth, adding that creating such a post would antagonise South Sudan's sitting vice president, James Igga Wani, seen as a representative of the Equatorian tribes.
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Despite the fact that Machar has signed the agreement, the recent divisions within the rebel movement could undermine the implementation of the peace agreement.
"It makes the situation much more murky. Even if Machar goes into the government, it doesn't mean the conflict will stop," Kisiangani said.
Earlier this month, the cracks within the movement became apparent as key political and military leaders, including General Peter Gadet, failed to make an appearance at the rebels leadership conference in Pagak in Upper Nile state.
|Simon Gatwech Dual, rebel chief of general staff, is targeted with UN sanctions for atrocities against civilians, insisted the movement was united, despite recent defections. [Simona Foltyn/Al Jazeera]
In a statement issued from Khartoum last week, Gadet, a hardliner famous for capturing Bor in the early days of the conflict, rejected a transitional government that included President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar and vowed to fight both sides.
Leading rebel generals downplayed the significance of Gadet's defection, questioning his ability to mobilise support of troops on the ground.
"We are talking to Gadet and trying to bring him back," Simon Gatwech Dual, the rebels' chief of general staff, said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
But the backing of Gadet's defection by a handful of politicians, including Gabriel Changson, the recently sacked chairman of the National Committee for Finance and Resource Mobilization, suggests the split may be symptomatic of broader challenges of keeping the movement united.
Speaking over the phone from Nairobi, Changson said his faction, which rejected the peace agreement, was in the process of preparing its position and expected to be included in forthcoming negotiations.
"IGAD is not taking us seriously now, but as time goes on, they will know we are force to be reckoned with and that we are part of the overall solution in South Sudan," Changson told Al Jazeera.
IGAD mediators said they don't foresee including additional factions in the negotiating process. "The problems that you see within the opposition should be solved by the leadership of the opposition," Beyene told Al Jazeera.
With no definite peace deal signed, international aid organisations warned of the rising toll of the conflict on South Sudan's population.
"There needs to be an urgent agreement that ends the cycle of violence for the South Sudanese," Rama Anthony, acting country director for Oxfam in South Sudan, said in a press release.
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Source: Al Jazeera