South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has accused former vice president and rebel movement leader Riek Machar of graft after investors allegedly stole money belonging to the world’s newest nation.
Mr. Kiir also accused his former deputy of fanning ethnic tensions in the country by inciting his Nuer ethnic group to attack other ethnicities including Kiir’s Dinka.
Some analysts say Kiir’s latest accusations could derail peace negotiations between the government in Juba and representatives of the rebels.
At a public rally in the Western Bahr el Ghazal state capital, Wau, local media quoted President Kiir as saying “Dr. Riek Machar was the one taking all responsibilities of South Sudan’s investment partners who were willing to invest in South Sudan between 2005 and 2010. During the time when I was a vice president of the Republic of Sudan in Khartoum, he was the one signing all contracts with all companies who later disappeared with South Sudan’s money and did not turn up for their promises.”
But, President Kiir's spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny denied media reports Mr. Kiir is insisting the former vice president should be prosecuted for corruption.
“The president was trying to say that if there was anyone who have sat over corruption he should account for any corruption that happened in South Sudan. He was not suggesting that Riek Machar should be prosecuted ... so the president is not saying Riek Machar should be put into prison now,” said Ateny.
Supporters of the former vice president condemned the accusation as yet another attempt by the president to undermine the peace negotiations and use that as a pretext to refuse to implement the proposed transitional government agreed to and signed by both Mr. Kiir and Machar.
Ateny denied the accusations could undermine the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediated peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia. He says President Kiir was simply refreshing the memories of the Wau residents about circumstances that led to the conflict.
Supporters of the rebel leader have questioned the timing of the accusation, arguing the president should have instituted an inquiry and possible prosecution if Machar was complicit in malfeasance and financial loss to the state.
But Ateny disagreed, saying President Kiir did not press fraud charges against the vice president in order to avoid instability and plunging the young country into chaos.
“It was the same scenario that the president was trying to avoid,” said Ateny. “In any way if he were to [have] dismissed him in 2009 or before 2011 South Sudan would not be independent, because the group which has been fighting along his side now would have caused havoc.”