South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar, has delayed his much-anticipated return to Juba as part of the peace process. Speaking to journalists at Juba’s airport on Wednesday, the rebel’s spokesman William Ezekiel said that the return trip had been postponed due to “logistical issues” but emphasized that the rebels were still committed to the peace process.
Machar was expected to return to Juba on Monday, where he would resume office as Vice President in an attempt to end the two-year civil war that broke out in December 2013 following his dismissal by President Salva Kirr.
A peace agreement that was signed in August 2015 between the warring factions demanded a cease-fire and a power-sharing mechanism, to which both parties agreed. The rebel leader promised to return to Juba at that time.
Speaking after the agreement, Machar said he was eager to return to Juba to expedite the process of restoring peace to the devastated country.
“I have told him (UN Chief Ban Ki Moon) that I am ready to go to Juba, particularly at this time when the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) has confirmed and assured me that Juba is being demilitarized and that our forces of 1,370 shall be transported to Juba. So I am waiting for the moment when the airlift will start. Once the airlift is finished, I will definitely be following them,” Machar told the media.
Following the announcement of the delayed return of Riek Machar to Juba, South Sudan’s government has expressed its disappointment, accusing Machar of making outrageous demands.
On Wednesday, South Sudan’s acting minister of foreign affairs said that Riek Machar was welcome to travel to Juba with 195 forces carrying only their personal weapons.
But in a conflicting statement, William Ezekiel who is Machar’s spokesman said that Machar would return to Juba with only 195 forces, 20 rocket-propelled grenades and 20 machine guns.
Later on Wednesday, Machar’s office accused South Sudan’s government of blocking the rebel leader from returning to Juba. They argued that Salva Kirr’s government had imposed a limit on weapons the rebels were supposed to return with, yet the issue had already been agreed upon.
The US has also criticized Machar for failing to fulfill his promise to return to Juba on Monday, where he was expected to take oath of office. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said:
“The United States is deeply disappointed by Riek Machar’s failure to return to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, today to form the Transitional Government of National Unity. His failure to go to Juba despite the efforts from the international community places the people of South Sudan at risk of further conflict and suffering, and undermines the peace agreement’s reform pillars.”
Thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced since the civil war started in 2013. Several peace agreements have been signed in the course of the war but they have repeatedly been violated.