JUBA, SUDAN; WASHINGTON - About a dozen officials of the SPLM-In Opposition faction allied to former South Sudan First Vice President Riek Machar defected to the Juba government this week.
The officials, which include a major general, former Unity state lawmakers and members of South Sudan's transitional national assembly, said they left Khartoum Thursday to join the national dialogue that President Salva Kiir initiated last month. Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the government will receive any former rebels who return to the capital for the sake of peace.
Ten politicians and army generals loyal to Machar say they joined current First Vice President Taban Deng Gai to implement the country's fragile 2015 peace agreement. Deng was appointed by President Kiir after Machar fled Juba following a surge in deadly fighting in July. The group was led by Sebit John Magok, Deputy Chairman of the SPLMIO's committee for roads and bridges.
“We came because we believe in peace, and we came to work for it so we can bring our people out of war through rebuilding the national reconciliation which has been destroyed in the past three years,” Magok said.
Peace is the goal
SPLA-IO Major General George Rweng Kot, who was based in Bentiu, said he believes Kiir and Deng are trying to restore peace.
“We left Machar and came to General Taban so that we can implement the peace agreement. We believe that the call of the president is right and whoever doesn't support this call is not a South Sudanese,” Rweng said.
SPLA-IO Deputy Military Spokesman Dickson Gatluak told South Sudan in Focus from Ethiopia that his group is not aware of any defectors who have joined Deng and argues the group that arrived in Juba has always been part of the government.
“We [SPLM-IO] have nobody left in in Juba; we have no politician who had joined Taban [Deng Gai] because we have no SPLM-IO in Juba. Our chairman [Machar] is in South Africa. We are in Addis Ababa and our generals are in their location [in South Sudan],” Gatluak said.
Talks benefit all tribes
Gatluak said Machar loyalists will only return to Juba after the 2015 peace agreement is revived, which he says won't happen under Deng.
Ateny, who received the group on behalf of the Kiir Administration at Juba International airport Thursday, said the former SPLA-IO group is back in the capital because they want peace.
“They are accepting the amnesty the president has extended for those who have taken arms against the republic of South Sudan in order to come and participate in the process of peaceful resolution to the conflict in the republic of South Sudan through national dialogue, which will be a wide forum for the people of South Sudan,” Ateny said.
Ateny stressed that Kiir believes the national dialogue is for all South Sudanese tribes.
“All 64 tribes can live in South Sudan without regards to the size of the tribe because God has created us to be in this country. Nobody has an upper hand than the other, apart from the fact that we can differ politically, but we have also the power of reuniting and reconciling the country,” he said.
Senior member joins Machar
Last year, Kiir offered amnesty for all armed opposition groups trying to topple his government if they would lay down their arms, renounced violence and return to Juba.
On the other hand, last Friday a senior member of the ruling SPLM party had defected to join Machar's rebels. Lokai Iko Loteyo, the former chairman of the SPLM in Kapoeta North County, told South Sudan in Focus he joined Machar's SPLM-In Opposition to bring change in South Sudan. Iko said the SPLM, under the leadership of Kiir, has only brought suffering to the people of South Sudan. He said what the SPLM is doing is contrary to the original vision of the party, which was to build on equality, justice and prosperity.
“But there's no prosperity now in South Sudan, no equality, no justice; there's nothing,” Iko said.