The leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), Riek Machar has welcomed the backing of regional leaders who support reinstating him as South Sudan’s first vice president, according to his spokesman, James Gadet Dak.
In a meeting held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa Friday, the leaders from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recommended both that Machar be reinstated and that a regional peacekeeping force should be deployed to protect civilians as part of an effort to ensure the full implementation of last year’s peace accord signed by both President Salva Kiir and Machar.
Local media quoted Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour as saying the regional leaders are trying to secure Juba through a regional military force to be agreed upon by the chiefs of staff of the armies of the east African block.
“[We] called for a dialogue between Kiir and Machar, agreed to work for Machar’s reinstatement as First Vice President, and to implement the security arrangements as provided in chapter II of the peace agreement in order to stop definitively the fighting and move forward towards the full implementation of the agreement,” said Ghandour.
Some South Sudanese wonder how soon Machar would return to the capital, Juba, especially because Sudan's President Salva Kiir has recently replaced Machar with Taban Den Gai.
Supporters of Kiir say he was forced to fill the position after Machar refused to return to Juba. Machar's spokesman, Dak, says the former rebel leader would only return to Juba after the regional force is deployed to improve security. He denied Machar is to blame for refusing Kiir's requests to return.
“We welcome this resolution by IGAD. This is what we have been saying, that we need a third party force to be deployed in Juba so that it could separate the two rival forces and to protect not only Dr. Riek Machar, but also the collective leadership of South Sudan including President Salva Kiir himself,” said Dak.
“There is no delay on his part, but it is the delay on the regional body the IGAD because they could not deploy the third party force. Dr. Riek Machar was waiting for the third party force to be deployed in Juba so that he could return. This is what he has been saying and he has been clear about it. So as soon as the regional body deploys the third party force, immediately Dr. Riek Machar will return to Juba.”
Taban Den Gai, the newly installed first vice president to replace Machar says he is willing to step down following the decision of the regional leaders.
But, civil society organizations have expressed concern about what to do about the reshuffling President Kiir undertook. Kiir replaced Machar and made new appointments including the new petroleum minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, who was a former Machar ally. Dak insisted that any appointments that occurred while Machar was absent are illegal and the former ministers should be reinstated.