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Why Riek Machar won’t repeat 2016 homecoming

Author: Alhadi Hawari | Published: Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Dr. Riek Machar arrives at State House, J1, after landing in Juba on April 2016. PHOTO: Maal Maker/South Sudan Presidential Press Unit

An official representing the SPLM-In Opposition has rebuffed the government’s proposition for a meeting between Dr. Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir in Juba, without proper guarantees.

Mabior Garang, chair of the IO’s National Committee for Information and Public Relations said Machar won’t take chances like he did when he returned to Juba in 2016 without a reformed security sector.

On Friday, the government insisted that the main opposition leader can only meet Kiir within South Sudan.

Speaking to the press on Friday 2 August -after the regular Council of Ministers meeting -the government spokesperson, Michael Makuei downplayed any request for Kiir to meet Machar in Addis Ababa.

Machar’s group wants a meeting to take place in the Ethiopian capital so that the two leaders can discuss and iron out any outstanding issue in regards to the pre-transitional arrangement.

These include; assembling, screening, training and reunification of the government and opposition forces under a reformed security sector.

Makuei asserted the government’s position by extending an invitation for Machar to come to Juba and “if he has any fear of any insecurity, he [Machar] has a right to be accompanied by any security of the neighbouring countries where he is staying in and he attends the meeting and he returns.”

“All the leaders of other parties are all here and if Riek Machar -at any time -wants to meet the President here, he is free to come,” said Makuei.

But Mabior dismissed the proposal and suggested that Addis Ababa is an ideal neutral capital for genuine talks between the two leaders.

“How can Dr. Riek Machar come to Juba without any security guarantees and we all know what happened last time?” he asked.

Mabior said taking the government by its words would be a repeat of 2016 when Dr. Machar entered Juba with some of his troops to protect the SPLM-IO leadership.

“We came with our troops last time and we still got attacked, so that’s not a guarantee,” he added.

In April that year, clashes between government’s forces and a contingent of SPLA-IO soldiers erupted at the State House, J1, and later led to an extensive war campaign by both sides -mainly in greater Equatoria region.

The clashes forced Machar to flee on foot for “forty” days to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo where he was rescued by UN peacekeepers in Congo. He was later transferred to Khartoum, and to South Africa where he was put under house arrest until last year.

In a highly anticipated meeting organized by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the two met in Addis Ababa where they agreed to renegotiate parts of the 2015 agreement.

In September 2018, a Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution on the Conflict in South Sudan was signed in Khartoum by all the parties.

The government threw a huge celebration in Juba the following month. Machar and other opposition leaders -accompanied by former Sudanese President, Omar al Bashir attended the fanfare.

Kiir and Machar last met again in April during a religious retreat organized by Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome.

Two weeks ago, Machar travelled to Addis Ababa to meet IGAD officials -including the Special Envoy for South Sudan, Ismael Wais.

During the same time, President Kiir was expected to hold bilateral talks with the Ethiopian Prime Minister in Addis Ababa but he did not travel.

“The only guarantee is peace, and we are just waiting for President Salva Kiir to come to Addis Ababa so that we can continue,” Mabior asserted.

The Troika, African Union and the region have urged the two leaders to engage in regular meetings to review the progress, build trust and confidence and extend a signal to South Sudanese that the agreement is on track.

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