South Sudan should delay elections until the almost four-year civil war ends, the United Nations mission head said, about two weeks after the government indicated it may go ahead with a vote in 2018.

“It’s important that we work through the peace process so that we have good conditions on the ground to enable elections to go ahead that can be seen to be free and fair and people can have confidence in them,” David Shearer, who leads the UN mission in the African country, told reporters Thursday in the capital, Juba.

The conflict in the oil-producing nation has claimed tens of thousands of lives since December 2013, with fighters loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar both accused of atrocities. A transitional government formed in April 2016 was thrown into turmoil just weeks later, when Machar and his forces were driven from Juba in further violence. Machar was replaced as vice president and Kiir’s government says the peace deal is still being implemented even as fighting has spread to the southern Equatoria region.

Addressing reporters on Aug. 30, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said that, following the letter of the peace agreement, the country should hold presidential and parliamentary elections next year and the government is ready to implement them.

“If we have premature elections before the whole procedures are put in place and before there is real peace then that will be a problem,” Shearer said.

By Francis Okech