Progress on implementing the South Sudan peace agreement is halting partially due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a special representative of the UN secretary-general.

David Shearer, who heads the UN mission in South Sudan, made the remarks on Wednesday while briefing members of the Security Council on the situation in the African nation.

The conflict in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, began when President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy Riek Machar in 2013. A civil war broke out with many people joining the fighting.

A peace deal was signed on Sept. 12, 2018 and a unity government formed in February 2020. However, some opposition groups refused to cease fire, and are continuing with the fighting.

Since then, at least 383,000 people have been killed, and nearly four million internally displaced or fled to neighboring countries, according to an estimate by Global Conflict Tracker.

Inter-communal violence fueled by competition over resources, easy access to arms and weak rule of law is on the rise.

‘’Progress has been painfully slow. Cabinet meetings occur irregularly, and South Sudanese want to see the president and vice presidents meeting and working collectively,’’ he said, speaking from the capital Juba via video link.

Shearer said the coronavirus outbreak has slowed implementation of the peace agreement ‘’but the pandemic is not entirely to blame.’’

The UN official argued that there has been almost no movement on the critical area of security sector reform. ‘’Forces who have collected for training are yet to graduate and many of those remaining are abandoning camps because of food and other shortages,” he said.

‘’No matter where people live and no matter who they are, all South Sudanese hope for peace and prosperity,’’ he added. “We are seeing a reversion to ‘business as usual’ where progress on the peace agreement itself limps along.”

The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan is looking at this evolving situation and examining how it can better support peace and protect civilians in the war-torn country, according to the UN official.

Meanwhile, Shearer said that falling oil prices, endemic corruption and a “near doubling” exchange rate since March is piling additional pressure on the government and families struggling to survive.

Floods since July has affected 500,000 people, particularly in Lakes and Jonglei states, he added.

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