NOEL KING, HOST:
South Sudan fought one of the bloodiest civil wars on the African continent, but there was hope. The country was supposed to have formed a unity government by tomorrow. Now, not for the first time, the deadline is delayed. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The latest chapter of South Sudan's civil war started in the summer of 2016 when President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar had a falling-out. The vice president went into exile, and fighting erupted across the country. So far, 2 million people, a fifth of the population, have been displaced. And by some estimates, nearly 400,000 have been killed. A peace deal signed in September 2018, however, ushered in a cease-fire, and Riek Machar was supposed to become vice president once more by tomorrow.
PUOK BOTH BULUANG: Peace, it's not about formation of the government. But it's about implementing the articles and the provisions that are agreed upon.
PERALTA: That is Puok Both Buluang, a spokesman for Machar. He says there are too many issues outstanding for Machar to return to South Sudan and take up the vice presidency. Among them - what force will ensure the safety of Machar, and how will rebel forces and the national army be unified? Those are issues, says Buluang, that should be resolved before Machar returns to the capital Juba. And it must be done by the current government.
BULUANG: It's not rocket science that the government in Juba lacks the political will to implement this peace agreement. And they are seeking - and they're trying their best to maintain the status quo in South Sudan.
PERALTA: A government spokesman in South Sudan did not immediately return our request for comment. The United States, which played a key role in the creation of South Sudan in 2011, is now taking a back seat, allowing regional powers to mediate. The U.S. blames both sides for delaying the formation of a unity government. Tibor Nagy, the top American diplomat on African issues, tweeted that the U.S. was disappointed and that the delay calls into question both sides', quote, "suitability to continue to lead the nation's peace process." Nagy says the U.S. is considering sanctions against, quote, "individuals who impede peace and promote conflict."
Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "DARK PEERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.