An official with South Sudan’s rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar said South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s decree creating 28 new states violates the spirit of the August peace accord.
In his Christmas Eve decree, Kiir also appointed 28 new governors, all of them loyal to him.
The president’s announcement came as rebel advance teams are in Juba to work with their government counterparts on modalities for the joint implementation of the August peace agreement.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth is the secretary for foreign affairs of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition. He said the rebels are urging President Kiir to rescind his Christmas Eve decree.
“Our position has been very clear. We have an agreement signed on the 17th and 26th of August 2015, and the agreement clearly states that there will be only 10 states in South Sudan for the next three years. So creating 28 states is basically not in line with the agreement that we have signed. So we are basically stating clearly that President Salva should stick to the implementation of the agreement which says 10 states for the next three years,” he said.
Gatkuoth said in addition to 10 states, the August agreement calls for the formation of a government of national unity, reconstituting the parliament and restructuring South Sudan government institutions.
“So if you are going to operate outside the agreement, definitely you are violating it. We are calling the government and the president of Republic of South Sudan, General Salva Kiir Mayardit to implement the agreement. Two, to reverse the decision he has taken,” Gatkuoth said.
Gatkuoth said the rebels believe in federalism and do not reject the creation of new states per se, but they are rejecting the creation of more states when it is in conflict with the August agreement.
“More states can be created as long as the boundaries are delineated and clearly we know that those boundaries reflect the British colonial districts of 1966, the districts that were created when the British handed over Sudan into the new republic,” Gatkuoth said.
But South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said President Kiir’s decree creating 28 new states is within the bounds of the country’s constitution.
Benjamin said all South Sudanese are on the path to peace. He said rebel foreign affairs secretary Ezekiel Gatkuoth should stop preaching war and join the peace "bandwagon" instead.
“I think Ezekiel is behind time. We are talking that peace has come and that we are going to implement the agreement. If there are any issues that he thinks are being violated, let him come and we will discuss them internally here. President Salva Kiir cannot do something which is not in line with our transitional constitution,” he said.
He asked how the rebels could criticize President Kiir when they themselves had announced in exile the creation of 21 new states and named governors - decisions they have yet to rescind.
“I think Ezekiel should behave like an ambassador. The issue reconciling our people, bring them together and then bringing peace and stability under the umbrella of peace, solidarity and brotherhood,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said South Sudan, a country of about 12 million people, cannot be held hostage.
“The government will continue to do the things that are entrusted through the transitional constitution of this country. The country with parliament, a country with government, a country with judiciary cannot put everything on hold because somebody called Ezekiel is outside the country,” he said.