The government of South Sudan is insisting it is democratic -- a day after a leading opponent said he had formed a "resistance" group to fight for free elections in the war-torn country.
Riek Machar told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program Monday that his new group is against what he called the regime of President Salva Kiir, and said he wants to see democracy and pluralism in South Sudan.
South Sudan's ambassador to the U.S., John Akec Khoc, defended Kiir in an interview with the same program Tuesday. According to the ambassador, the president is known for being inclusive, and gave the example of Mr. Kiir integrating outside militias into South Sudan's army.
"So former vice president Riek Machar might be wishfully hoping to dent the image of our government, but unfortunately for him, this is not true, it doesn't hold water, and nobody can believe it."
The ambassador said the ruling SPLM won a landslide victory in the last elections but respects democratic principles and rights.
"Let us wait for the elections, and hope that the number of the representatives from different parties will rise and increase."
The ambassador did not comment on Machar's announcement of a "resistance" group.
South Sudan's government has accused Machar of leading an alleged coup attempt in mid-December that set off weeks of deadly fighting, including clashes between pro and anti-government troops, and alleged ethnic violence between the Dinka and the Nuer, the country's two largest tribes.
Machar denied making a coup attempt, and it remains unclear whether Machar is in charge of the rebels who have battled government troops in several states.
Thousands are believed to have been killed, and more than a half-million people have been driven from their homes. A shaky cease-fire has been in place the past 10 days, with each side accusing the other of violations.
Machar is a political rival of the president, and has announced plans to challenge him in the next elections. The president fired him as vice president last July, about five months before the fighting began.
Kiir has led South Sudan since the country became independent from Sudan in July 2011.