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South Sudan's leader wins dubious 'spoiler of peace' award

KAMPALA – South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Monday was named the top “spoiler of peace” in a new award that seeks to shame him and others into taking serious steps to end bloody conflict in the world's youngest country.

Kiir and rival leader Riek Machar are under growing pressure to form a coalition government this month, the significant next step in a fragile peace deal signed in 2018 to end a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.

The deadline has been extended twice and the international community is signaling impatience. The upcoming deadline is Feb. 22.

“It is for me totally unacceptable that we are still again close to the deadline of a new period that was declared, that there is no agreement on a number of issues," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said over the weekend. “Respect your people."

Now a Uganda-based group, Atrocities Watch Africa, is citing Kiir and others for their roles in the conflict that also has displaced at least 2 million people. Many fled to Uganda.

The “spoiler of peace” award citation accuses Kiir of being unwilling to compromise on major issues needed to form the coalition government. It also asserts that under his command and control, government-backed fighters killed thousands of people and committed atrocities such as looting and razing villages.

Ateny Wek Ateny, a spokesman for South Sudan's presidency, described the award as “nonsense."

Dismas Nkunda, a Ugandan activist who established the awards, said he hopes that “with these awards the individuals, businesses and other institutions that are derailing the peace process in South Sudan will not continue as usual now that we know them.”

Other winners of the awards announced in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, included the Ugandan government, South Sudan's military, an oil consortium and other political and military figures in South Sudan.

The Ugandan government, which has backed Kiir in his efforts to prevent rebels from taking power, is accused of facilitating arms transfers to South Sudan in contravention of a European Union arms embargo. Uganda, which denies any wrongdoing, insists it sent troops and equipment at the request of Kiir's administration as rebels threatened to enter the capital, Juba.

The civil war erupted in South Sudan in late 2013, when a rift between Kiir and his deputy, Machar, escalated into fighting often along ethnic lines. Both men have been accused of violating multiple ceasefires.

The regional bloc mediating South Sudan's peace process, IGAD, said in a communique over the weekend that further extension of the deadline to form a coalition government "is neither desirable nor feasible." It said Kiir asked for time to consult and report back on Saturday.

A key issue that remains is the number of states South Sudan should have, with IGAD calling it an internal matter for which a "solution should come only from the South Sudanese people.”

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Maura Ajak in Juba, South Sudan contributed.