UNITED NATIONS, March 8 (Xinhua) -- The South Sudan peace agreement continues to hold six months after its signing with positive changes on the ground, the UN envoy for the country said here Friday.
David Shearer, the special representative of the secretary-general for South Sudan, told the Security Council the deal is "a testament to the efforts of the parties who built sufficient trust and confidence among themselves and have committed to work together towards durable peace."
In September 2018, the South Sudanese government and the armed factions signed the deal in Ethiopia after five years of fighting in the country.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into ethnic conflict in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president.
The current phase of the peace process, the pre-transitional government period, ends on May 12. Based on this accord, the transitional government is scheduled to take over and the vice presidents, including Machar, should have taken up their roles.
Shearer outlined four positive changes since the agreement. "First, opposition politicians from different parties are moving freely around Juba without hindrance and are taking part in the various meetings as part of the peace process."
He praised the South Sudanese government for creating the space and security conditions for this to happen, as well as the opposition leaders for returning and participating in the peace process.
Second, he noted over 71 meetings and rapprochements have been held across the country where the government and the Machar-led Sudan People's Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) have met. "The enthusiasm for peace amongst people is palpable."
Third, he said political violence has diminished significantly with the exception of Central Equatoria state, where fighting close to Yei between some armed forces has intensified.
Fourth, for the first time in three years, "people are expressing a willingness to return home," he said, adding an estimated 135,000 refugees have returned and that many internally displaced have signaled their wish to go home.
Despite the positive changes, maintaining the momentum of the peace process faces "significant challenge," Shearer cautioned.
He said fundamental issues include forming a unified armed force to be deployed in the capital Juba and all major towns, providing security for returning opposition leaders, and drafting a constitution.
The UN envoy pledged that the United Nations will continue to focus attention and resources on making the peace agreement work.