A South Sudanese opposition official says East African leaders meeting Friday should endorse a foreign intervention force for the war-torn country.
Tensions remain high in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, after clashes between rebels and government forces last month killed some 300 people and displaced tens of thousands.
President Salva Kiir has said more foreign troops to complement U.N. peacekeepers are not necessary; but Goi Yooyul Yol, the opposition’s representative to Ethiopia and the African Union, says a buffer force is needed to separate government forces and those of the opposition, known as the SPLM-IO.
“When we signed the agreement last year, we felt that a third force was not necessary, and we thought the two forces would manage the security in Juba; but what happened in Juba on July 8, 9 and 11 shows that the government of South Sudan, the president himself is not in control of his forces,” Yooyul Yol said.
About 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers are currently stationed in South Sudan.
Leaders of the East African regional bloc IGAD are meeting in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. President Kiir is not attending the talks.
The Machar question
The government and opposition blame each other for starting the fighting in Juba last month.
Opposition leader and former first vice president Riek Machar has been in hiding since the clashes. A breakaway faction of the SPLM-IO unseated Machar as its leader, and President Kiir appointed a new first vice president, Taban Deng Gai.
Yooyul Yol accuses President Kiir of having ordered his forces to kill Machar.
“Every morning, you see helicopters taking off and soldiers moving toward the direction where they suspect Riek to be hiding, and guns are heard. There’s a lot of fighting. This thing is not something somebody can deny. There were directives to hunt for Dr. Machar,” Yooyul Yol told VOA.
The SPLM-IO says President Kiir must reverse his decision to replace Machar as first vice president to get the implementation of the peace deal back on track.
He said the installation of Taban Deng Gai as first vice president was illegal.
“They had said that they are replacing Dr. Machar temporarily because he was temporarily absent; but Article 6.5 of the [peace] agreement says that in the event of temporary absence of the first vice president, the first vice president may delegate a senior [South] Sudan-in-Opposition official to carry out functions or duties stipulated in the agreement,” Yooyul Yol told VOA.
The Kiir government has defended its decision to appoint the new first vice president as being in accordance with the wishes of the SPLM-IO.