South Sudan

Machar says may not return to Juba before demilitarization

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February 12, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – The newly appointed South Sudanese First Vice President, Riek Machar, who leads an armed opposition faction, stressed Friday on the need to demilitarize the capital Juba in order for him to return to the national capital, Juba, and take up his new position in the government.

The opposition leadership responded to his “surprise” appointment on Thursday as First Vice President by President Salva Kiir and the subsequent directive from the president giving seven days to report to Juba and form with him a transitional government of national unity (TGoNU).

“The Chairman and Commander-in-Chief of SPLM/SPLA (IO), Dr. Riek Machar, has clearly stated, time and again, his willingness to return to Juba any time soon. However, this strictly depends on how fast the government demilitarizes Juba and arrival of the 2,910 SPLA-IO units of the joint forces in the capital,” James Gatdet Dak, the opposition leader’s spokesman, quoted the position of Machar.

Machar told Reuters on Friday he would only come back if the government went through with what he said was a promise to demilitarize the capital Juba. He said he had not spoken to Kiir since August.

"If this is done within a week’s time, it would accelerate my going back to Juba," Machar said by phone from Cairo. "If it takes two weeks, then I will wait for two weeks."

Dak told Sudan Tribune on Friday that without the implementation of the security arrangements in the capital in accordance with the peace agreement; it is unrealistic for Machar to return to Juba within the 7 days suggested by President Kiir.

“This is the reason we said the appointment of the First Vice President was rushed and did not follow the sequence of the implementation of the peace agreement. Although it is in line with the provisions of the power sharing agreement, it is a redundant action because the First Vice President will not take oath of office until he arrives in Juba,” he said.

He said Machar expected Kiir to instead concentrate on the demilitarization of the capital and transportation of the opposition forces into Juba before appointing deputies or forming a unity government, saying these were the priorities set out in the peace agreement and confirmed by the recent IGAD communique.

Dak said it seemed there is an “ill-intention” rush to skip some of the “very important” provisions in the peace agreement, which he said was not healthy for safeguarding the agreement and building trust.

As the government celebrates blessing from IGAD communiqué to skip the constitution and form a new government without it, as well as provide a space for consensual dialogue “within the context of TGoNU” on its unilaterally created 28 states, the government also seems to be happy with Machar returning to Juba without first demilitarizing the capital and deploying the opposition forces, with the exception of few hundreds of personal bodyguards of the opposition leader.

While the opposition faction of SPLM-IO accepted the IGAD’s sudden change of sequence by putting constitutional amendment after formation of the new government, the opposition said they will not form the government until their forces are in Juba.

“We will not accept this. Dr. Machar will not return to Juba until the capital is demilitarized and our forces are deployed. This is what the peace agreement says. It is for rebuilding trust as well as for protection and deterrence. Somebody has to understand that this is very important,” he said.

However reports from Juba say that senior political and military leaders in President Kiir’s government resist the demilitarization of the capital, which should have taken place since November last year with the President until Thursday calling on the military leadership to withdraw forces.

Dak revealed that President Kiir has refused an invitation to Cairo by the Egyptian President to meet with the opposition leader who is on visit to Cairo so that they discuss some outstanding issues in the peace agreement.