WASHINGTON - South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar turned down an invitation Saturday from President Salva Kiir to visit the South Sudanese capital Juba.
Machar, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM IO), told Kiir in a meeting in Khartoum that the environment in South Sudan is not conducive for a visit by a rebel delegation.
"What is the security? I was concerned about that. Truly, if we are going to implement the peace agreement, there is that need for people moving to Juba, outside the areas of [rebel and government control]," Machar said.
"In our phone conversation, I had appealed to you to release the prisoners. First, prisoners of war. Second, political prisoners and detainees. I hope your excellency [President Kiir] has taken action because that builds confidence and trust among people [South Sudanese] when such an action is taken," he added.
Kiir, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said his group had released all prisoners of war in their custody by December.
?According to the terms of the revitalized peace agreement, the signatories to the deal are supposed to submit names of their representatives who will be part of pre-transitional institutions, such as the revitalized Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, a body charged with monitoring the peace agreement, by Sept. 26.
President Kiir said his government is keen on implementing the Sept. 12 revitalized peace agreement. He said he is ready to work with Machar to start a new chapter in South Sudan.
"We have to chat among[st] ourselves to nominate members of all the communities that are supposed to be formed [to implement the agreement]," Kiir said.
South Sudan army and rebels of the SPLM IO clashed in Yei River state three weeks ago right after signing the peace deal in Addis Ababa. Machar insisted that the a cease-fire agreement has been violated.
"What is important is that there is calm, so there is respect of the permanent cease-fire. Because without the respect of the permanent cease-fire, we will be deceiving ourselves that we are implementing an agreement when it is being violated, " he said.
Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, Machar’s deputy military spokesman, issued a statement Saturday accusing the South Sudan army of attacking rebel positions in Yei River state. VOA could not independently verify his claims.
Chris Trott, the U.K. special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, told VOA last week the parties involved in the conflict in South Sudan have a chance to show their commitment to peace by implementing the revitalized agreement signed on Sept. 12.
The British diplomat said his government was interested in seeing an end to violence and unhindered access to humanitarian agencies operating in South Sudan. He said that if the parties failed to honor their commitments as stipulated in the peace agreement, sanctions would remain an option.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir organized a peace award ceremony in Khartoum over the weekend to reward Kiir and Machar for signing the revitalized peace deal.