South Sudan’s armed opposition leader, Riek Machar, said Saturday he will return to the national capital, Juba, to take up the post as First Vice President. Machar is currently based in Pagak, a South Sudan’s border town near Ethiopia, which has served as his headquarters.
Machar was speaking at a news conference he conducted in his private residence in Addis Ababa, just one day after President Salva Kiir reappointed him to his former post in a surprise decree, which he said did not follow the sequence of the implementation of the peace deal the rival parties signed in August 2015 to end 21 months of civil war.
The rebel leader said he has accepted his appointment and will return to the capital, Juba, once the required security arrangements are in place.
“We as a movement have welcomed the issuance of the decree that appointed me as the first vice president of the Republic of South Sudan,” Machar told journalists in the Ethiopian capital, hours after his return from Cairo, Egypt, where he held bilateral talks with the Egyptian President el-Sisi.
Machar did not set an exact date for his arrival in Juba after two years but said his return depended on Juba’s commitment to allow the demilitarization of the capital and transfer of 2,910 opposition forces to Juba to guarantee security for his safe homecoming.
“In this preparation we have difficulties. The government has not committed to transfer our troops,” he said.
“The international community has committed to a small portion of 400. We are still asking others to help transport these troops in the shortest possible time, so that I can be in Juba. If they transport within three days, I will be in Juba in the next day,” he added.
He underscored the first phase of integrating government and rebel forces should be completed before his return.
The peace agreement stipulated that Juba shall be demilitarized and a joint police and military force, totaling 8,000 combined from the two rival forces shall be deployed before Machar could return to Juba and form a transitional government of national unity with President Salva Kiir.
With regard to establishment of 28 states, Machar said the issues of the number of states will be addressed soon.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune at his residence in Addis Ababa, Machar said a rush to form transitional government would not mean accepting the creation of 28 states and should be dealt with.
The two warring factions signed an IGAD mediated peace deal in August 2015 based on an understanding of 10 states. But the government unilaterally created 28 new states after signing the accord.
But government’s move to expand states from 10 to 28 has become a setback to speed up the implementation of the peace deal aimed to ending over two-year long conflict in the world’s youngest nation.
The top opposition leader however said the 28 states will be suspended from the day the unity government will be formed.
“Once the government is formed, even if it were formed tomorrow, the 28 states will be suspended. And within one month, we should negotiate and come up with a number of states that are agreed. If we fail, we revert to the 10 in the peace agreement,” Machar said.
Machar said the expansion of the 28 states violates the spirit of the peace agreement; the recent amendment of the constitution and the implementation to a number of security arrangements.
He called on the government and the international community to play their role to transport his nearly 3,000 troops to Juba so that he returns to the capital to take oath of office as first vice president.
However, observers say there seems to be delaying tactics on the part of the government to demilitarize Juba and to assist in speeding up the transportation of Machar’s forces to the capital, preferring only 400 bodyguards.
Opposition officials said such a move casts doubts about the intentions of the government in the implementation of the peace agreement.