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Riek Machar's South Sudan Rebel Group Fractures

  • John Tanza

Lul Ruai Koang (L), shown here at South Sudan peace talks last year, says he has broken with Riek Machar to form his own rebel group.

Lul Ruai Koang (L), shown here at South Sudan peace talks last year, says he has broken with Riek Machar to form his own rebel group.

Former South Sudan vice president Riek Machar's rebel group splintered on Wednesday when a senior official announced in Nairobi that he is breaking away and setting up his own opposition movement.

In a declaration read out to reporters in Nairobi, Lul Ruai Koang, who until Tuesday was the military spokesman for Machar's Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) rebel group, said he had grown tired of "fighting for an organization that wants to keep on fighting simply because one man at the top wants to rule this country by force."

"This war is destroying everyone...simply because Dr. Riek wants to get back to the position he lost nearly two years ago," Ruai told South Sudan in Focus in a telephone interview.

Machar was fired from his position as vice president in July 2013, when President Salva Kiir sacked his cabinet. In December of the same year, Mr. Kiir accused Machar of being behind a failed coup bid that triggered the violence that is still ongoing in parts of South Sudan.

The announcement of the new rebel movement came a day before peace talks for South Sudan were due to resume in Addis Ababa.

Ruai has been part of the SPLM-IO delegation at the slow-moving peace talks, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). He said he believed when the talks first started in January last year that they were aimed at bringing "a good change that would benefit the people of South Sudan as a whole."

But as they ground on, "We realized that some back-door deals were being made that would ensure that some personalities in the movement would be rewarded. We have gotten good information that Riek has been convinced to end the war by getting back to his position. That is not what all these people died for," he said.

No official death toll has been released for South Sudan's 14-month-old conflict, but the International Crisis Group estimates the number is at least 50,000. In addition, nearly two million have been displaced from their homes. The fighting that began as a political rift within the ruling SPLM party quickly took on an ethnic dimension, pitting the two biggest tribes in South Sudan -- Mr. Kiir's Dinka tribe and Machar's Nuer tribe -- against each other.

Ruai said the new movement will be fighting neither Machar's SPLM-IO nor the government, but "anybody that will keep on saying we will remain in the status quo of lack of development, the status quo of not being represented at all the different levels of government."

Ruai said his movement is supported by members of the Nuer ethnic group. He said he wants part of Jonglei state to be turned into a separate state for the Nuer.

Last year, Pibor County in Jonglei state was given a degree of self-rule in a bid to spur development after years of marginalization. Former rebel leader David Yau Yau, who fought the South Sudan government for years, was appointed head of the Pibor County administrative area after agreeing to make peace last May.

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