South Sudan President Salva Kiir insisted Thursday he is committed to ending more than six months of conflict in his young country through dialogue, but said he will only agree to a peace deal if it guarantees that he will lead the transitional government.
“They intend to constitute a transitional government without me as the elected president," Mr. Kiir said in a speech to the National Assembly.
"They want to bring somebody of their choice to be the president of that transitional government. That... is a red line,” he said to applause from the lawmakers present.
Kiir said the aim behind setting up a transitional government was to dismantle the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Party (SPLM), and warned members of parliament that they will lose their seats if the move goes ahead.
“The whole intention is to dismantle the SPLM, which they believe has become a very strong monster in South Sudan and it must be downsized to a level that gives room to be challenged and be defeated," Mr. Kiir said.
"I am very clear on this. The members of this august house were elected by their constituencies, represent them in accordance to the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, and nobody on this earth will be allowed to dishonor their legitimacy. As the President of the Republic of South Sudan, I will never allow this thing to happen," he said.
The whole intention is to dismantle the SPLM, which they believe has become a very strong monster in South Sudan...
Mr. Kiir was addressing the lawmakers a week after he and his rival in South Sudan's six-month-old conflict, Riek Machar, pledged at a summit of East African leaders in Addis Ababa to set up a transitional government within 60 days and to allow immediate, unhindered access to the hundreds of thousands of people in need created by the war.
But on Thursday, Mr. Kiir rejected what he said was a proposal to form an interim government without him. He told the lawmakers he would be prepared to expand the cabinet but vowed that those in elected positions would remain in office.
Dec. 15 unrest was a coup bid
He also reiterated his claim that the fighting in South Sudan was triggered by an attempted coup, led by Machar, who was vice president of South Sudan until Mr. Kiir fired him and the rest of his cabinet in July last year.
I always say that if there was no coup, how did fighting start?
“Those elements that please themselves in the agenda of regime change have fallen into the deception that, on 15th of December, President Salva Kiir created a story of a coup in South Sudan while in fact there was a rebellion within, there was no coup. I always say that if there was no coup, how did fighting start?” he said.
IGAD 'stupid' comment
Mr. Kiir also spoke publicly for the first time about an off-color comment attributed to a top official in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional bloc that has been mediating peace talks for South Sudan since January.
IGAD’s Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim was quoted in media reports as saying Mr. Kiir and Machar were stupid if they thought South Sudan's crisis can be resolved on the battlefield. The two sides have signed at least three peace agreements, none of which has held.
Immediately after Maalim's comment came to light, Mr. Kiir sent a letter of protest to IGAD Chair, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, asking for an apology and for Maalim to be punished.
On Thursday, Mr. Kiir said it was unacceptable to refer to him, a head of state, as "stupid." He said the government delegation will only return to the peace talks in Addis Ababa when he has had a response from Desalegn to his letter of protest.
Machar has also responded to the off-color comment by Maalim, calling it "unfortunate" but saying it should not cause the peace talks to stall.
Hours after Mr. Kiir's speech, IGAD issued a statement to say the negotiations will resume on Friday.