South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar visits Egypt Wednesday at the invitation of Egyptian leader Abel Fattah El Sissi.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, secretary for foreign affairs of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition, said talks will center on getting Egypt to support the implementation of last August’s agreement to end the South Sudan conflict.
Machar's visit comes on the heels of last week’s African Union summit, where leaders expressed disappointment in both the rebels and the South Sudan government on the lack of progress in implementing the agreement, particularly the formation of a government of national unity.
Implementation has been stalled due to the opposition rejection of President Salva Kiir’s decision to create 28 states. Gatkuoth says Egypt has had historic relations with South Sudan, and Machar will urge Sissi to use those relations to help the peace process.
“One, they [Egypt] can talk to Juba because they have influence over Juba; they can also talk to us because they also influence over us because if you can recall also, Egypt was a former colonial power together with the United Kingdom and now South Sudan as an independent country, many of our leaders were educated in Egypt," he said. "So, the role of Egypt is being appreciated by all of us across the aisle. So, they can also influence us to make sure that this agreement is respected by all parties.”
Gatkuoth also said the Egypt visit is in line with Machar’s regional tour to drum up support for the peace process, which has taken him so far to Uganda and last week’s African Union summit.
The chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the August peace agreement, has urged both parties to form the transitional government of national unity without further delay.
Former Botswana president Festus Mogae told government and opposition officials in Juba Tuesday that he is disappointed in the delay, which he said is contributing to the continued suffering of the South Sudanese people.
The deadline for forming the transitional government was last month.
“This disappointment stems not solely because of a day on the calendar was missed but because the potential, the opportunity, the possibility of a new government is so close, so vital for this country, that it must be taken," Mogae said. "Every day we spend here, I think of children I met growing up without the chance of education, the chance of bettering their own lives denied through no fault of their own.”
Gatkuoth said rebel leader Machar is ready to come to Juba to be sworn in as the vice president of South Sudan as soon as the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission facilitates the move to Juba of rebel security forces.
“We have informed officially in a meeting that now we are ready for our leader to come to Juba to be sworn as the first vice president of the Republic, but now we want the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and the whole world to move quickly to bring in the security forces of the SPLA-in Opposition to Juba as soon as possible,” Gatkuoth said.
The impasse in implementing the peace agreement arose after President Salva Kiir created 28 states out of the current 10 states, a move the rebels said violated the agreement.
Gatkuoth said both the rebels and the South Sudan government have agreed to the stipulations in the communique of IGAD, which calls for suspension of the operationalization of the 28 states once a transitional government of national unity has been formed.
“We [the government of the Republic of South Sudan and also the SPLA in Opposition and other opposition parties] have adopted the IGAD communique which is basically saying, one, take the security forces of the SPLA-IO to Juba, two, form the transitional government, three, discuss the 28 states, and immediately once the transitional government of national unity is in place, the operationalization of the 28 states will be suspended until there is an agreement by the two parties on the number of states,” he said.
But he said if the two parties still fail to agree on the number of states, then a provision in the agreement that is 10 states will prevail.