ADDIS ABABA —
The South Sudanese rebel leader, Riek Machar, believes a political settlement can be reached during the next round of peace talks with the South Sudanese government.
Machar said that despite their differences, he thinks the issues between the sides can be resolved.
“Now there's a lull in fighting, and then it is hoped that if we got an agreement, a transitional government would form. So it’s a roadmap for handling the peace process,” said Machar.
Fighting broke out in mid-December after a political rift between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Machar, his former vice president, boiled over.
An agreement between the two leaders was signed in early May, which was largely based on the January agreement that included a ceasefire deal. The January agreement has been repeatedly violated by both sides.
Machar claimed President Kiir is still violating the Cessation of Hostilities agreement.
"Ugandan troops are still in South Sudan, they have not been withdrawn. They should have been withdrawn progressively by January the 23rd, when the Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed. The other foreign troops are Sudanese rebels that were fighting alongside the government. The Sudanese rebels and the Ugandan forces should have been withdrawn. So this is a violation of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement,” said Machar.
It is said that opposition forces loyal to Machar are still fighting in the Upper Nile State, which would also be a violation of the ceasefire. But the rebel leader said he was not aware of any fighting by his troops in the Upper Nile State.
However, Machar did admit that not all anti-government fighters are under his control.
“Because some of them are volunteers. People who lost their [kin] in Juba, took up arms, they fight alongside us. Some we control, some we may not be able to control. And then the SPLM forces that sides with us, those we control. But we are working to ensure that the volunteers fighters are under control and command,” said Machar.
The next round of peace talks, led by the East African bloc IGAD, might see another high-level meeting between Machar and President Kiir in the coming week. During the signing ceremony in early May, they had committed to meet again within a month.
The conflict in South Sudan has left over 1.3 million people displaced and thousands dead. Aid organizations fear a humanitarian crisis as farmers did not plant their fields because of the fighting. A famine is looming, possibly affecting even more South Sudanese.