UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council called on South Sudan's warring parties Wednesday to publicly reaffirm their commitment to fully implement a peace deal signed over a year ago that calls for a coalition government to be formed on Nov. 12.
The U.N.'s most powerful body expressed concern in a statement that during their recent visit to South Sudan, council members "did not observe substantive progress on implementation of key elements of the peace agreement."
Under the agreement, opposition leader Riek Machar is to return to the capital Juba on Nov. 12 and once again serve as President Salva Kiir's deputy, as part of a power sharing deal intended to pull the country out of a five-year civil war that has killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions.
South Sudan, the world's newest nation, has been slowly emerging from the civil war but the fragile peace deal signed in September 2018 so far has been marked by delays and continued fighting in some parts of the country.
Machar made an impassioned plea to the Security Council delegation that met with him in Juba on Oct. 20, warning that the cease-fire enjoyed by much of the country for over a year could fail if the unity government was formed Nov. 12 as scheduled and called for a months-long delay. He noted the previous power-sharing accord between him and Kiir collapsed in 2016 and brought renewed fighting.
Machar's supporters have said he won't return to South Sudan for good until adequate security arrangements are in place.
The Security Council "strongly encouraged" the East African regional group IGAD to continue efforts to ensure "the peaceful formation of an inclusive transitional government" in South Sudan and to resolve the issue of Machar's status.
In addition to implementing the peace agreement, the council said, the warring parties need to fulfill benchmarks in the peace deal and cessation of hostilities and cease-fire agreements.
Council members said that "full implementation of all provisions of the peace agreement remains the only path that will set the country towards the goal of peace, stability and development."
This story has been corrected to show that opposition leader Riek Machar contends the ceasefire could fail if a transition government is formed on schedule.