S.Sudan Rebel Leader Returns as President Apologizes for War

  • Machar return repeatedly delayed after dispute over weapons
  • Country facing `staggering' humanitarian needs because of war

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital to join a transitional government with President Salva Kiir, who apologized for the suffering inflicted by a more than two-year civil war in which tens of thousands of people died.

Machar was sworn in as vice president after arriving in Juba on Tuesday aboard a United Nations flight from neighboring Ethiopia. Both Machar and Kiir pledged to resolve differences that have led to repeated delays in implementing a peace deal they reached in August as the violence wore on.

“I apologize to the people of South Sudan on the suffering we the leaders have created,” Kiir said in a speech on Tuesday. “Though the road ahead is challenging we are committed to go forward.”

Machar was fired as vice president in July 2013 by Kiir. He then challenged his leadership, leading to a split within the ruling party and fighting in the military that evolved into war that December. The conflict has forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes and cut oil production by at least a third to about 160,000 barrels per day.

The rebel leader’s scheduled April 18 return was postponed because of disagreements about the number of troops and the amount of weapons he could travel with to Juba. The joint administration that he has agreed to take part in is supposed to improve economic management, boost security, reduce corruption and stamp out human-rights abuses before elections are held within 30 months of its formation.

‘Staggering Needs’

The humanitarian crisis is “far from over” and the needs in South Sudan are “staggering,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

“Some 6 million people need humanitarian assistance -- more than half the population,” the council’s country director, Victor Moses, said. “Over half of all school-aged children are not attending classes.” An aid appeal has been only about a fifth funded, he said.

Machar said his priorities will be to implement the cease-fire agreement, open up humanitarian access and stabilize the economy.

“I want to start a new page with the president so that we move on, if we have the political will we will succeed,” Machar said at the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday.

South Sudan’s economy shrank 5.3 percent last year and is forecast to grow just 0.7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Inflation in the East African country surged to 245 percent last month.

There is no “blueprint” yet for the country’s economic revival, Machar said. “I think the first step is ensuring the agreement starts getting implemented,” he said.

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