South Sudan president Salva Kiir has rejected a plan by rebel leader Riek Machar to fly weapons and soldiers into the capital Juba.
Machar was due to return to Juba on Monday to be sworn in as the first Vice President of South Sudan.
Since December 2013, South Sudan has been engulfed in a bloody civil war that has killed at least 50,000 and displaced 2.3 million people.
A peace deal signed in August between President Salvia Kiir and Machar laid the framework for peace, but it has yet to be implemented.
Machar’s return is widely seen as essential to forming a unity government, an important step in ending the country’s civil war.
Machar’s arrival in Juba has been delayed because of a disagreement over the number of opposition troops travelling with Machar and his chief of staff, Simon Gatwech Dual, who is under United States and United Nations sanctions.
The opposition has demanded that Dual return to Juba along with the return of Machar.
It was proposed that Dual be flown from Gambella, Ethiopia, by an Ethiopian Airlines flight that was funded by the US government, according to Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of foreign affairs for the SPLA-IO, the opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was then supposed to fly Dual along with 45 troops to Juba on Saturday, April 16, as part of his presidential guard, according to Gatkuoth.
“There is no such plan with UN aircraft,” said Ariane Quentier, spokeswoman for UNMISS in an email quoted by Al Jazeera.
None of the planes arrived on Monday, and the county has been thrust into a political waiting game.
South Sudanese Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei Lueth said on Tuesday that Dual’s plane did not get clearance to land because it did not go through the proper channel.
He said that Dual could only arrive with 40 troops, and Machar cannot travel with any troops.
Machar’s protection force “is already on the ground with all of their armaments. He does not need any additional armed forces or arms in Juba,” Lueth said in a statement to journalists on Tuesday.
Both parties agreed to have 1,410 troops located in Juba, Lueth said, and there are already 1,370 opposition soldiers in the capital.
Lueth said that a joint military committee between the rebels and opposition, known as JMCC, must approve the armament of the 40 troops, and be verified by a group of international monitors, CTSAMM.
As of Tuesday night, the resolution of the disagreement over the number of troops travelling with Dual and Machar is unknown, but a spokesperson for Machar said he “will be arriving [In Juba] on April 20 if all goes well”.
Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, says Kiir’s administration should understand that the number of the SPLA-IO’s forces required to be deployed in Juba is 2,910 in total, and not the initial 1,370 only.
“They should not therefore object to the transportation from Pagak via Gambella by air of additional troops or bodyguards of both the South Sudan’s First Vice President, Chairman and C-in-C of SPLM/SPLA (IO), Dr. Riek Machar, and the Chief of General Staff, 1st Lt. Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual.”
He said even if their number reached 1,500, it would have been still in compliance with the required SPLA-IO troops in Juba per the security arrangements.
“The government should therefore stop wasting time and give landing permit (clearance) for the plane which will carry the Chief of General Staff, the bodyguards and their weapons…unless the administration is not committed to peace.”
He adds: “Hence, the argument in Juba that the SPLA-IO should not bring in more soldiers or weapons is a misguided complaint…even if we were to bring in to Juba the types of weapons they also possess inside and around the national capital.”