- Government refuses to allow more than 40 additional rebels
- Peace deal is designed to end more than two years of civil war
South Sudan’s main rebel group won’t compromise over government demands that only 40 more troops accompany its leader on his return to the capital to join a transitional administration, a spokesman said.
Travel for Riek Machar and his movement’s military chief, Simon Gadwich Dual, has been delayed since April 18 after the government refused the latter landing permission, citing an excessive number of soldiers and heavy weapons. The deal to share power with President Salva Kiir seeks to end more than two years of civil war that’s killed tens of thousands of people in the oil-producing nation.
The 244 troops that the rebels want to bring are the bodyguards of Machar and Dual, insurgent spokesman William Gatjiath Deng said Wednesday by phone from Ethiopia’s Gambella Airport. “If they are claiming that bodyguards cannot go, there must be ill intentions. We cannot compromise our own security.”
Machar is set to resume his position as vice president in a 30-month transitional administration based on a regionally brokered peace deal signed in August. The accord permits 1,410 of his forces to be stationed in the capital, Juba, and 1,370 have already taken up their positions, according to mediators. The rebel movement is also supposed to contribute 1,500 police to a joint force for the capital.
The U.S. State Department criticized Machar on Tuesday for a “willful decision” to not return to Juba, while the international body overseeing implementation of the agreement, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, called for “utmost flexibility” from the two parties. The government said on Tuesday it won’t accept “any additional arms or surplus forces” in Juba.
The troops waiting at Gambella Airport have only light weapons permitted under the agreement, said Deng. “RPGs are not heavy weapons,” he said, referring to rocket-propelled grenades.