The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), the body overseeing the implementation of South Sudan peace agreement signed in August last year, has set Saturday, 23 April, as the deadline for arrival to Juba of the opposition leader and first vice president designate, Riek Machar.
Machar, who fought the government for 21 months and signed the peace agreement on 17 August 2015, would return to the national capital, Juba, after two years in Upper Nile region and in exile.
The decision to give an ultimatum for his return to Juba came after President Salva Kiir’s government on Thursday again refused to allow the opposition forces to carry PKMs and RPGs, accepting only AK47s – a situation which caused further delay.
To break the deadlock, JMEC in a statement on Thursday after an emergence meeting in Juba with representatives of the rival parties and international peace partners chaired by former President of Botswana, Festus Mogoe, confirmed that additional troops and weapons will be allowed prior to Machar’s return to the capital.
In the resolution of the meeting, JMEC said “That the parties agree that the current security conditions in Juba are adequate and sufficient for the return of Dr. Machar.”
“We also share our expectation that Dr. Machar will return to Juba as soon as the necessary arrangements can be put in place but not later than 23 April,” the statement added.
The statement added that the 195 soldiers that were accepted by the government to accompany Machar will carry along with them 20 PKMs and 20 RPG-7 and shells and rounds of ammunitions consistent with the numbers approved in phase one.
“The CTSAMM [Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism] should verify these weapons in Gambella and on arrival in Juba,” it added.
The new 195 soldiers will be subtracted from the original number of 2,910 troops agreed by the parties to the peace deal. JMEC said any new demand by the parties will not be entertained.
“The regional and the international partners underscore their strong objection to any new conditions to the security arrangement in Juba,” it said, in what appears to be frustration over continued delay by SPLM-IO leader to return o Juba to take up his second most powerful position in the country.
SPLM-IO BLAMES GOVERNMENT
However, SPLM-IO said their troops and army chief were ready to travel to Juba on Thursday and blamed the government for delaying the arrival of their top leader to Juba, saying the government was unnecessarily confusing the situation.
They said Machar was ready to travel to Juba since Monday, 18 April, but was blocked due to the government’s refusal to transport troops. The soldiers, they said, are part of the joint integrated forces from the components of the SPLA-IO as stipulated in the security arrangements for the capital.
“President Salva’s government is responsible for this unnecessary delay since 18 April,” said Machar’s press secretary, James Gatdet Dak, when contacted on phone by Sudan Tribune on Thursday.
He blamed the government for staging what he said was uninformed argument on the components of the deployed opposition forces in the capital.
“The government was not acquainted with the numbers and components of our soldiers and police required to deploy in Juba per the security arrangements. They thought the 1,370 already in Juba are all soldiers. They made an uninformed argument and put the remaining number to only 40 soldiers to be transported to Juba,” he said.
The refusal to bring in to Juba more than 40 soldiers, he said, resulted to unnecessary delays on Monday and Tuesday.
He said after the government on Wednesday learned of their mistake and came to realize that over 1,500 SPLA-IO forces were yet to be transported to Juba, they accepted that 195 soldiers should accompany the first vice-president with weapons to add to the already 1,370 components of police and military in the capital.
“But on Thursday when the chief of general staff of the SPLA-IO army was trying to board a plane to Juba with his troops, the government again said they didn’t want some of their organic weapons such as RPGs and PKMs,” he charged.
Dak said the forces who boarded the plane with their weapons were informed of the new condition from the government and had to get down from the plane in Gambella airport, Ethiopia.
He however said the chief of general staff and the troops are expected to travel to Juba on Friday if the government agreed to the JMEC’s new proposal to transport the previously rejected RPGs and PKMs.
The opposition faction, he added, has agreed to the proposal of the JMEC to carry along with the 195 troops 20 PKMs and 20 RPG-7s.
He said the government has not however agreed to the proposal, adding that he hoped JMEC will put pressure on the government to agree and stop delaying the return of the first vice-president designate.
He argued that SPLA-IO is a co-national army in South Sudan, pending the planned reunification with the government’s army during the transitional period of 30 months, adding “they have the right to possess weapons like their counter-parts in Juba.”
Over 250 members of the opposition’s advance team, who were left behind in Pagak, were also transported to Juba from Gambella on Thursday ahead of Machar’s arrival.
The opposition’s army chief as the implementer of the security arrangements, Dak said, is also required to arrive first in Juba before the arrival of the first vice-president designate.
The chief of general staff, he added, will be based in Juba where his headquarters will be situated.
He said Machar was ready to return to Juba as soon as the necessary arrangements were put in place.