South Sudan’s foreign minister has expressed concern about reports Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has promised military support to rebel leader Riek Machar to forcefully take power in the world’s newest nation.
In an interview with VOA, Barnaba Marial Benjamin says the administration in Juba plans to raise its concerns to officials in Khartoum as part of an effort to resolve South Sudan’s ongoing conflict. He says Juba is committed to reaching a deal at peace negotiations in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Benjamin also says President Salva Kiir is on standby to head to Ethiopia to sign a final peace deal with the rebels once negotiations are complete.
“This is a very unfortunate development if Sudan has come out with its leadership to say they would give ammunition to the rebels so that they can make a regime change in South Sudan. This is not in the spirit of cooperation between the two countries, nor does it indicate good neighborliness. Because the two countries need to have good relations in as far as the cooperation agreement is concerned,” said Benjamin.
“On our side, we have told Sudan that we need to have good relations, we need to help each other resolve our internal challenges in a positive manner that promotes good neighborhood in our territory.”
Benjamin says Juba will discuss its concerns with regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) about Sudan’s promised military support to the rebels. He also says South Sudan will engage directly with Sudan.
“We have got a cooperation agreement which is a platform on which we discuss all issues. We had agreed that any differences between the two countries should be resolved peacefully but not through armament or through fighting. So definitely, we will express our corner to them, and we will ask them where this attitude of supporting the rebels, which we have been saying [all] along that they should not do,” said Benjamin.
The rebels have denied receiving military support from Sudan. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, chairman of the National Commission for external relations for the rebels told VOA that the accusation is a demonstration of the government’s tactic to undermine the peace negotiations.
“Of course when you fail, some people would want to blame others for their failures… Barnaba should focus on how to bring peace instead of accusing a friendly neighbor who is actually committed to bring peace to South Sudan. For me he should focus on how [both of us] can bridge our differences and bring peace to South Sudan as soon as possible,” said Gatkuoth.
“Sudan has nothing to do with this [conflict]. We are not getting any arms from Sudan. We are getting what we are getting from Salva. He is actually buying it for all of us. When we are fighting we supply ourselves from what we get from the field.”
Meanwhile IGAD issued a statement Saturday saying it expects both President Kiir and rebel leader Machar to be present in Addis Ababa to negotiate in good faith and sign an agreement on August 17.
South Sudan Foreign Minister Benjamin says the chief negotiator of the government is in Ethiopia and would send a signal to President Kiir if an agreement is reached.
“Our president cannot go and negotiate. We have got a big delegation… empowered that they should conclude the peace process and then the president will come to sign. Our president is on standby. But in the meantime our president has sent ahead his Vice President James Wani Igga to go in his place,” said Benjamin.
“The rebels are split. All the generals in the field including the political leadership are saying Riek Machar is no longer their leader. They have disowned him. So we are now negotiating with Riek and we are also obliged with the people who have split and who are actually fighting on the field. So Riek is in Addis Ababa and he has no army on the ground.”
Gatkuoth says the rebel leadership including Riek Machar has been in Addis Ababa for several days waiting for President Kiir to resume negotiations and sign a final peace deal by the IGAD-issued August 17 deadline. President Salva Kiir and Machar were scheduled to meet on August 14 to 15 as part of the negotiation process to resolve the conflict.
“We were in South Africa we had to cut short our trip to be here…We have been waiting since August 11. We (are) waiting for Salva and we are telling him to come and negotiate with us so that we bring peace on August 17. We are committed to the date and we are committed to bringing peace to the people of South Sudan based on the IGAD-Plus draft compromise agreement,” said Gatkuoth.
“We are not happy with the agreement, it is a very bad document for us, but this is actually the only document we can use as a basis for negotiating with Salva so that we can compromise.”