South Sudan Rebel Leader Demands Kiir Quit After Deal Signed

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar demanded that President Salva Kiir resign from chairing the country’s ruling party, saying misrule under his leadership caused a conflict that’s killed thousands of people.

Factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement on Wednesday signed an agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, to begin reunifying the party. Power struggles within the SPLM led to the outbreak of fighting in South Sudan 13 months ago that has killed tens of thousands of people and driven 2 million people from their homes.

The accord shows that after previously refusing to do so, Kiir has accepted to discuss issues of corruption, insecurity, ethnic politics and reform of a movement that lacked direction and vision, Machar said by phone Friday from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Machar, Kiir’s former deputy before being fired in 2013, is head of the SPLM-In Opposition.

“Salva Kiir lost his case in Arusha, he should just resign,” Machar said. “He took the country to war because of that, now he comes and admits he was wrong, so why would he remain in power.”

South Sudan’s oil output, which provides about 90 percent of government income, has fallen to 160,000 barrels per day since fighting erupted in December 2013. Army commanders rebelled in three states, including crude-producing Unity and Upper Nile, after Kiir arrested rivals for allegedly plotting a coup.

“False Assumption”

Leaders from Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi will consult with Kiir, Machar and Deng Alor Kuol, the head of a third faction, on the structure of the SPLM’s leadership. Discontent from members of the rebel movement about the reunification agreement is based on a false assumption that Kiir will remain chairman, Machar said.

“This is not the case,” he said. “We’re still talking.” Disagreements on power-sharing between Machar and Kiir are blocking the finalization of a transitional government which the warring parties have agreed to form.

While Machar can contest the chairmanship at a future convention, Kiir has no plans to step down, said presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.

“That’s the beginning of him backing out from the agreement,” he said by phone from Juba on Friday evening, referring to Machar. “Whenever an agreement is reached, he begins to find ways of spoiling them.”

‘Still Pushing’

Machar’s stance partly undermines the accord because even after the commitment to unity, “he’s still pushing for Salva Kiir’s premature removal,” said Douglas Johnson, author of “The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars.”

Reunifying the SPLM may lead the way to a political solution, although there’s no plan for how to stop fighting, he said by phone from the U.K. on Friday. In the long term the SPLM will probably fragment as it tries to transform from a top-down guerrilla movement to a political party, Johnson said.

The SPLM factions’ pact pledged to bar any member found guilty of “gross human rights violation” from public office in the party and government.

Machar also urged the African Union to publish its report on an inquiry into the crisis and atrocities. “Some people are saying it will blow off the peace process,” he said. “To me no, we should face the reality of the situation.”

Newest Country

South Sudan became the world’s newest country when it became independent from Sudan in 2011. Machar and some rebel commanders now allied to him, such as Peter Gadet in Unity state, at times fought against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during the decades-long civil war with Sudan.

Machar said he “understands the frustration” people may have at the party leaders’ failure to govern and their violent split.

Unless a transitional government is formed, elections will go ahead as scheduled on June 30, the government said on Thursday. Holding a vote would be “ludicrous” because of war in three regions and spreading insurgencies, Machar said.

“They should seek peace instead of seeking the legitimization of President Salva Kiir,” he said.

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