S. Sudan Rebel Chief Postpones Return, Delaying Peace Deal

  • Machar says plane wasn't cleared, govt reports it held weapons
  • U.S. says failture to return will extend suffering, conflict

South Sudan’s main rebel leader indefinitely postponed his return to the capital, delaying the formation of a power-sharing government needed to end a two-year civil war in which tens of thousands of people have died.

Riek Machar’s planned trip to Juba on Tuesday to resume his role as vice president was canceled because an aircraft carrying his chief of staff didn’t have government clearance to land, a spokesman for the rebels, William Ezekiel, told reporters in the city.

Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said the government was told Machar wanted to arrive with heavy weaponry that he didn’t need as almost 1,400 rebels are already in the capital as part of a security agreement between the factions. The government was disappointed that Machar didn’t show up, said Lueth, although he didn’t comment on whether the plane had permission to enter the country’s airspace.

By failing to return to Juba, Machar took a “willful decision” to shirk his responsibilities in implementing the peace agreement, John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. The U.S. and its partners had gone to “great lengths” to prepare for Machar’s arrival, including supporting his political advance team and security details, said Kirby.

Risk Factor

“His failure to go to Juba despite efforts from the international community places the people of South Sudan at risk of further conflict and suffering, and undermines the peace agreements reform pillars,” said Kirby. “We call upon the government to exercise maximum flexibility for the sake of peace and on Machar to return to Juba as he has promised to do.”

Conflict erupted in the oil-producing country in December 2013 after splits within the ruling party and military turned violent. More than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes and oil output has been cut by at least a third to about 160,000 barrels per day.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal in August under international pressure, agreeing to run a government of national unity for 30 months before holding elections. Fighting has continued despite the promise by both parties to end the violence.

Recent clashes between government and opposition forces in previously peaceful areas of Western Bahr al Ghazal state have displaced more than 96,000 people, and more broadly there’s been an increase in refugees escaping to neighboring countries this year, the United Nations Refugee Agency said on Tuesday.

Uganda has reported receiving as many as 800 people on an average day, most of them women and children, while Ethiopian officials say that many of the new arrivals they see are unaccompanied minors, the agency said.

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