Former South Sudan First Vice President Riek Machar has called for an armed struggle against the government of President Salva Kiir — a move that could mark a renewal of the country's civil war.
The call came in a statement issued over the weekend, following a meeting in Khartoum of Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO).
The movement signed a peace deal with South Sudan's government in August 2015 but implementation was delayed and largely fell apart after the sides clashed in the capital in July.
Stephen Par Kuol, a senior member of the SPLM-IO political bureau, said the call is in reaction to the Juba government’s repeated attacks on SPLM-IO positions.
“We have been waging armed resistance since 2013 when this was imposed on us. We had suspended that until we were attacked recently in Juba. Be also informed that the government is launching attacks on our positions everywhere in the country. So, we are putting up resistance now,” Par Kuol said.
A spokesman for South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny, said Machar is a warmonger who has nothing good to offer the people of South Sudan who, he said, are yearning for peace.
"I actually read the statement and came up with the conclusion that Riek Machar will be Riek Machar. He will never have anything better to offer to the people of South Sudan apart from war,” Wek Ateny said.
Wek Ateny said President Kiir and the government of national unity in Juba have decided never again to return to war again.
“We have reached the conclusion that we are not going to go back to war. We are not going to give anybody war because the people of South Sudan deserve more than war. They deserve peace, something better than war,” Wek Ateny said.
Par Kuol denied Machar and the SPLA-IO are warmongers. Instead, he said the SPLA-IO is confronting a “violent, ethnocentric regime of Salva Kiir."
“These wars have been destructive. But you must understand that the people are just responding to these massacres, to these genocides, to the systematic killings by the government which pretends to be the government of the people,” Par Kuol said.
Machar, who is in Khartoum recuperating from injuries he sustained in July, has not been made any public statement.
Par Kuol thanked the United Nations for helping to extricate Machar from the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan where he is recuperating.
But he accused the U.N. of issuing “empty threats” against President Kiir for violating the peace agreement without any consequences.
Ateny said the government will continue to work for peace with Taban Deng Gai, the new leader of the SPLA-IO, who replaced Riek Machar as first vice president of South Sudan.
Par Kuol said Taban Deng Gai’s appointment violates the peace agreement.
“If you read the transitional constitution of South 2011, the terms of Riek Machar and Salva Kiir as running mates out of the election of 2010 expired in July 2015. They were legitimized together only by the agreement. So the two are bound to work together, or both leave the political scene of South Sudan,” Par Kuol said.