South Sudanese President Salva Kiir issued an administrative order late Monday, removing former vice president Riek Machar from his position of first deputy chairman of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party.
Taban Deng Gai and Alfred Lado Gore were also dismissed from the SPLM in the order read out on state television. Both were members of the party’s governing body, the National Liberation Council (NLC).
The removal of the three men, whom the government has accused of playing a role in what Kiir has said was a failed coup on Dec. 15 that set off weeks of deadly violence in South Sudan, was approved by the NLC last week.
SPLM officials said they voted to remove the three men from the party leadership after media reports said that Machar and his supporters had set up an opposition party.
SPLM Secretary for Political Affairs and Mobilization Antipas Nyok de Kucha said joining a different party was sufficient grounds for immediate removal from the SPLM.
“The SPLM Constitution Article 10 talks about the loss of membership in the party. So, one of the reasons to lose SPLM membership is once you joined a different political party. Then, immediately, you can be dismissed," he said.
Kucha said no one has been selected to replace Machar.
Machar, Deng and Lado Gore either went into hiding or left South Sudan when violence erupted on Dec. 15. The government has said it has enough evidence to bring charges of treason against the three men and four other members of the SPLM who have been in detention in Juba since the fighting broke out. All seven are accused of plotting to oust Kiir in a coup.
Kucha said the decision to remove Machar, Deng and Lado Gore from the party leadership had nothing to do with the accusations of treason against them but was based solely on the fact that they had joined another party.
Goi Jooyul Yol, a spokesman for Machar’s new party, called the SPLM in Oppostiion, said the ouster of the three men was not binding.
"We are still SPLM members. The vice chairman is still in his place until we have a real mechanism to resolve the issues of SPLM," he said, adding that the issue of whether to keep Machar and the others in the party should have been resolved at peace talks for South Sudan, which were due to resume Tuesday in Ethiopia.
Lucy Poni contributed to this story from Nairobi