South Sudan Rebel Leader Machar Back In Juba After Two Years

South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar (C) arrives at Juba international airport with his wife to attend a peace ceremony in Juba, South Sudan, on October 31, 2018. South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years to take part in a peace ceremony. Akuot CHOL / AFP

 

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years on Wednesday for a ceremony to welcome the latest peace accord for the war-ravaged country.

Machar, who under the terms of the September deal is to be reinstated as vice president, had not set foot in the city since he fled in July 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace agreement collapsed.

The latest deal was signed in September to try to end a civil war that erupted in the world’s youngest country in December 2013 and uprooted about four million people — roughly a third of the population.

The rebel chief was welcomed by President Salva Kiir, Machar’s former ally turned bitter enemy, on his arrival at Juba’s airport from Khartoum.

The two rivals are to join regional leaders at the ceremony to publicly welcome the most recent agreement, signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

It was not immediately clear how long Machar would remain in Juba, as his aides have expressed concerns over his safety in the city.

 ‘Here for peace’

Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group, had said on Tuesday that he would be accompanied by around 30 political figures.

“We are worried for his security in Juba, but the truth is here: we are for peace, and what we are trying to do is build trust. So that is why he is able to leave his forces behind and just go with politicians,” Gabriel said.

Several thousand people had already gathered for the ceremony at the John Garang Mausoleum, built in honor of the independence hero who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005.

Among regional leaders in Juba for the ceremony were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s newly appointed President Sahle-Work Zewde and Somalia’s head of state Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was also expected to attend.

Machar fled Juba in July 2016 after fierce fighting erupted between government forces and his rebels, leaving several hundred people dead.

He first headed on foot to the Democratic Republic of Congo before finally going into exile in South Africa.

Deep humanitarian crisis

South Sudan’s civil war erupted when Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, accused his then deputy Machar, a Nuer, of plotting a coup.

The conflict split the country along ethnic lines and has seen mass rape, the forced recruitment of child soldiers and attacks on civilians.

It has caused one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises and wrecked the economy in a country which relies on oil production for the vast bulk of its revenues.

The United Nations and the African Union earlier this month appealed to the country’s warring parties to make concrete steps to implement the latest accord.

South Sudan gained independence from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011 after a 22-year civil war pitting rebel groups against Khartoum.

Several ceasefires and peace agreements have so far failed to end the fighting in South Sudan that has killed an estimated 380,000 people, uprooted a third of the population, forced nearly two-and-a-half million into exile as refugees and triggered bouts of deadly famine.

Sudan earlier this month appointed a peace envoy to South Sudan following the signing of the September accord in Addis.

AFP

South Sudan President Kiir Grants Machar, Other Rebels Amnesty

 

President Salva Kiir granted a general amnesty to rebels in South Sudan’s civil war, including his former deputy Riek Machar, as a rights organisation said authorities in Africa’s youngest country should also free its critics.

The amnesty order was read out on state-run television late on Wednesday, three days after Kiir, SPLM-IO leader Machar and the heads of other groups signed a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

A political row between Kiir and Machar degenerated in 2013 into a war that has killed tens of thousands, forced a quarter of the population to flee their homes and wrecked the country’s oil-dependent economy.

The conflict has often been fought along ethnic lines. Previous deals to end it have failed, including one in 2015 that briefly halted hostilities but fell apart after Machar returned to the capital Juba the following year.

SPLM-IO is the largest of the rebel groups fighting Kiir’s government, and fighters allied to it control several areas close to the capital. Other anti-government groups have also emerged, some of which have fought against each other.

Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for the release of a number of government critics jailed by the intelligence services, including Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent economist who has criticised both sides in the war.

“South Sudanese authorities should release everyone being held arbitrarily and change the way the national security agency operates,” Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at the New York-based rights organisation said in a statement.

Biar, a country director for the London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre and a former World Bank economist, was arrested by officers of the agency in July.

 

Clashes Flare In Southwest Of South Sudan’s Capital

south sudanFighting flared late on Saturday in southwest of the capital of South Sudan between forces loyal to the President and those backing the opposition.

This is coming after clashes last month raised fears of a slide back into civil war.

Steven Lodu Onseimo, the Information Minister for Yei region where Saturday’s clashes took place, told Reuters that two civilians and a soldier were killed, but said the area was calm on Sunday.

Witnesses had reported heavy gunfire around Yei, which lies on a road linking the capital Juba with neighboring Uganda. The government and opposition each blamed the other side.

Following the fighting in July, the U.N. Security Council authorised the deployment of a 4,000-strong protection force to support the existing 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission.

“Our forces have managed to close Juba-Yei road. Our forces destroyed the government’s convoy that attacked our forces in the area,” opposition spokesman James Gatdet said by telephone.

The Yei Information Minister described the attack as an “ambush” of a government convoy by the opposition.

Political differences between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar first erupted into conflict in late 2013. They signed a peace deal in August 2015, but sporadic fighting has continued.

Machar had recently returned to Juba to take up his position as deputy again when the July clashes flared. Machar then withdrew with his forces from the capital.

Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said after Friday’s vote for extra U.N. troops that the government would not accept the new force, describing it as a U.N. bid to take over South Sudan.

The United Nations had threatened an arms embargo if the government did not cooperate.

Regional states have backed sending extra troops to South Sudan in a bid to quell the conflict and prevent any further spillover.

More than two million South Sudanese have been displaced by more than two years of conflict since the nation got its independent from Sudan and many have fled to nearby states.