South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar's anticipated return to the capital, Juba, planned for Saturday, was delayed after President Salva Kiir’s government demanded its team inspect weapons that Machar would bring along.
The government’s demand came shortly after a Cabinet meeting on Friday. The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) had earlier announced the government in Juba had accepted plans to allow the plane carrying Machar, the designated first vice president, to land.
In a statement issued by Information Minister Michael Makuei, the government said it will send a team to ascertain the types of weapons before Machar would be allowed to return to Juba.
The Sudan Tribune website quoted Makuei as saying, "All these [weapons] will have to be verified and for them to be verified CTSAMM, which is the verification body, will send a team of verifiers to Gambella to go and verify the 195 soldiers who are coming plus their individual and plus these 20 PKMs and  RPGs… If the team leaves today [Friday] then definitely the team will be there to do the verification and probably by Monday we expect him in Juba.”
Machar’s arrival in Juba is a key part of the peace process to form a transitional unity government following an accord signed last year between Machar and President Kiir to end South Sudan’s conflict.
Peace accord at risk
James Gatdet Dak, the official spokesman for Machar, says the latest surprise demand by the government is an indication that Kiir’s government lacks commitment to carry out the full implementation of the peace accord.
He says it was regrettable that the government would pull a surprise demand after all their initial concerns were resolved to enable the smooth arrival of Machar. Dak says the new demand negatively impacts the schedule for Machar’s return.
“This is a very unfortunate development as the first vice president designate prepared to travel to Juba today, we have just received a new demand from President Salva Kiir’s government saying that they will send a team to go and verify the weapons that our forces are going to carry along, those who are going to accompany the first vice president to Juba,” said Dak.
“We are surprised that the government has come up with this new demand today they want to verify these weapons when the Ethiopian government, which is now in charge of the weapons at the airport, has already verified and has communicated it. So it has implications on the schedule of the first vice president … The demand has caused the delay and they are several hours behind schedule and I am not very sure they are going to make it to Juba today.”
Dak says Kiir’s government is to blame for the latest delay in Machar’s return. Machar delayed his arrival following disagreements over his plans to come along with weapons. He was initially scheduled to arrive in Juba last Monday to take up his post as the new first vice president after which the transitional unity government would be formed.Dak says the rebel group has registered its protest to the JMEC following the government’s demand.
Supporters of the government say there is a need for verification to ascertain whether the weapons being brought into the country by the rebels are indeed what they claim to be. Dak disagreed.
“It will cause further delay of the transitional government of national unity which is needed for the implementation of the peace agreement. So if the verification will further delay the travel of the first vice president designate, this means that the formation of the transitional government of national unity will also be delayed,” said Dak.
“I think it is not necessary because the number and the specifics of the weapons have been declared. The list has been provided to the government and to JMEC," he said. "They know how many AK47s are going to be brought in by the forces. They know how many forces are coming which is 195. They agreed that the number of PKM weapons is going to be 20, the number of RPGs is going to be 20. So this information has been provided and it has been agreed, and the Ethiopian government in Gambella airport has also verified the number of weapons and the types. And they have locked them in boxes and even our forces at the airport have no access to these weapons.”