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Machar's Return to Juba Unlikely, Spokesman Says

FILE - South Sudan's Riek Machar gestures at a news conference in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 26, 2016.
FILE - South Sudan's Riek Machar gestures at a news conference in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 26, 2016.

The spokesman for South Sudan’s first vice president says Riek Machar is unlikely to return to the country’s capital to meet President Salva Kiir despite an ultimatum issued by Kiir, set to expire Saturday.

It is unclear what steps Kiir will take after his ultimatum expires

Kiir invited Machar for a meeting to resolve recent clashes between opposition groups loyal to the two men, which left at least 300 people dead, many injured and forced some citizens to seek protection at a U.N. compound in Juba.

James Gadet Dak, spokesman for Machar, said Kiir’s ultimatum was unfortunate and regrettable.

Machar "will not be there [in Juba], because there are arrangements that are pending, security arrangements for his safety and to avoid confrontation with the forces loyal to President Salva Kiir," Dak said. "And this is the supposed deployment of a third-party force, which has been endorsed by the African Union."

The spokesman said Machar was willing to return to Juba but “wants his safety to be guaranteed" and "wants to ensure President Salva Kiir’s forces would not attack his forces again."

Who is the spokesman?

Some civil society groups have said there's confusion in the movement led by the first vice president; they noted that Ezekiel William, a member of Machar's Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, had made comments on behalf of the group, while Dak had spoken on behalf of Machar. The groups said they don't know whom they should be listening to, and that the confusion could derail the full implementation of the peace agreement signed last year.

But Dak denied that the SPLM-IO was divided. He said those who claimed to be speaking on behalf of the SPLM-IO were doing so for selfish gains.

"The world should listen to the office of the first vice president. ... He is waiting for the deployment of a third force, and the world has accepted the deployment of a third force," Dak said. "IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional development group] has endorsed it and the United Nations has proposed it. So the first vice president is speaking the same language with the rest of the world."

Some senior SPLM-IO officials said Kiir’s ultimatum is an attempt to install General Taban Deng Gai to place of Machar as first vice president in a move to scuttle implementation of the peace accord. Supporters of Kiir rejected the accusation.