South Sudan peace talks face collapse over new security law as country prepares for first elections

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JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Southern Sudan peace conversations which was nearing completion, hit a stumbling block when opposition groups demanded a new bill that would allow the detention of people without a warrant before they could sign a proposed agreement.

Kenya has been host the high-level meetings since May between government officials and rebel opposition groups that were not part of a 2018 deal that ended a five-year civil war that has killed some 400,000 people and displaced millions. Despite the agreement, violence has frequently erupted in the country of 9 million.

Pagan Amum Okiech, who negotiates on behalf of the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance, told the Associated Press news agency on Tuesday evening that it would be “pointless to sign an agreement if the draconian National Security Act is signed by the president”.

Last week, parliament voted in favor of the 2015 bill, and President Salva Kiir must approve it within 30 days for it to become law, ahead of the country’s first-ever elections on December 22.

“This law violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens of South Sudan, it eliminates civil and political space,” Amum said. “There can be no peace or democracy under such a law.”

The executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a nonprofit that engages university students and recent graduates, is attending the peace talks. Edmund Yakani criticized the security law, saying it “created a negative atmosphere in the negotiations.”

Human Rights Watch has also called on President Kiir to reject the controversial bill, which it says will further undermine human rights and strengthen national security services, which have a long history of human rights abuses.

The talks, called Tumaini in Swahili and meaning hope, have resulted in a draft agreement that proposes extending the country’s transition period and postponing upcoming elections. This would allow for the country’s constitution and electoral law to be finalized, constituency boundaries to be drawn up and a joint security force to be established, as proposed during the 2018 peace talks.

Some Western envoys also recommend postponing the elections “to ensure a free and fair election.”

Kiir has always insisted that the elections be held in December and has summoned the envoys.

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