After three days of delay, South Sudan government has accepted that nearly 200 troops of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) will accompany the first vice-president designate, Riek Machar, to Juba.
About 195 soldiers are expected to arrive in Juba on Thursday with the chief of general staff of the SPLA-IO, General Simon Gatwech Dual, ahead of arrival of Machar.
Acting minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Peter Bashir Gbandi, made the announcement to reporters in a press conference in Juba on Wednesday.
“We are pleased to announce that the government has accepted that 195 SPLA-IO soldiers, with their weapons will accompany First Vice President designate, Riek Machar, and their chief of staff,” said Gbandi, referring to the armed opposition faction that will form interim government with President Salva Kiir’s government.
Machar cancelled his arrival to Juba on Monday and Tuesday over failure by the government to grant flight and landing clearance to his top military leader, Dual.
Information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, however said the opposition group intended to bring advance arsenals including laser guided missiles and anti-tank artilleries.
SPLM-IO officials however disputed the government’s account, saying over 1,500 components of police and soldiers had not yet been transported to Juba.
Minister Gbandi agreed with the explanation from the opposition officials, saying the first argument presented by the government was wrong which he blamed on “confusion” due to lack of information about the components of the police and soldiers in the 1,370 opposition forces which already in Juba.
He acknowledged that over a thousand opposition forces were yet to arrive in Juba, adding that the troops that will now return with Machar and his chief of general staff would be added to the current number already in Juba.
He called on the first vice-president designate, Machar, to return to Juba soon and help alleviate the suffering of the people of South Sudan.
“Our people have suffered too much for too long and we have to do everything we can to ensure that Dr. Riek Machar comes to Juba and end the war by forming transitional of national unity,” he said.
He added that a government team will travel to Gambella, Ethiopia, where opposition soldiers are stationed to inspect the weapons they possess before being put on planes and airlifted to Juba.
Earlier, the government alleged that the opposition forces were carrying anti-tanks and laser-guided missiles which can destroy both tanks and helicopter gunships, saying they will not allow them to enter Juba.
The top government’s diplomat also said a team will be sent to Gambella on Thursday to verify the types of weapons the opposition forces should carry, which he said should be “personal weapons.”
If all goes well, the minister said, the opposition’s chief of general staff and the troops will arrive in Juba on Thursday, followed by Machar.