After days of in Juba, opposition leader Riek Machar postponed his arrival in South Sudan’s capital twice this week, from the international community and leaving the populace in doubt over the peace process.
to be sworn in as vice-president alongside his rival, President Salva Kiir – a crucial step towards a unity government and the conclusion of a civil war that has killed tens of thousands and left people needing humanitarian assistance.
The reinstatement of Machar as vice-president, a post he held before the conflict, is part of a under immense international pressure.
Amid shifting and often disparate statements from various opposition and government officials, the main point of contention surrounding Machar’s return appears to be the number of troops and types of weapons that can be brought to Juba along with the rebel leader and his general chief of staff, Simon Gatwech.
Logistical problems delayed Machar’s arrival on Monday, while on Tuesday the government failed to issue the necessary flight clearances, saying that Machar intended to bring in heavy weapons and more than 200 additional soldiers. This would exceed the total number of troops agreed in the governing the presence of government and opposition forces in the capital.
“The republic of will not accept any additional arms or surplus forces to be brought,” said the information minister, Michael Makuei.“When you talk of bringing more arms here, what are you doing?”
The government and rebels subsequently an agreement on the number of troops had been reached, but differences remained over whether the soldiers should be permitted to bring rocket-propelled grenades and automatic machine guns. “We still stick to our conditions. We need the soldiers to come with these weapons,” said opposition spokesman William Ezekiel on Thursday morning.
Reuters, however, allowing Machar to return on Thursday.
The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, the body tasked with verifying the presence of government and opposition forces in Juba, has yet to confirm that security arrangements aimed at preventing clashes between the two sides have been met.
Some believe uncertainty over the number of troops present may have allowed the two sides to place fresh demands and stall the process.
“The international community is so focused on getting Machar to Juba, but what they are doing may lead to the dismantling of the peace deal,” said Lam Akol, the chairman of the minoritySudan People’s Liberation Movement – Democratic Change party. “The security arrangements in Juba are critical, and, if they are not fulfilled, the deal can easily be called off.”
Machar’s absence is one of many setbacks since the signing of the peace deal, often described by the two warring sides as an agreement imposed by the international community.
Wrangling over Machar’s return continues to cast doubt on the viability of a proposed unity government led by two men who have been at war for more than two years and had a poor track record of cooperating even before the conflict.
Fighting following a protracted power struggle between Machar and Kiir. The conflict divided the country along ethnic lines, sparking bloodshed between Kiir’s Dinkas and Machar’s Nuers.
The US, which played a crucial role in brokering the peace agreement, has maintained that a unity government headed by Kiir and Machar is the only way to achieve peace.
“Some people criticise this agreement as rewarding [the two sides] for having gone to war,” said Donald Booth, US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, earlier this year.
“Indeed, because they were fighting they had to agree to silence the guns. But this agreement goes far beyond that: it lays out four reform tasks for the transitional government.”
The formation of the transitional government, already delayed by several months, would be the first of many reforms set out in the deal.
During a 30-month transitional period before fresh elections, the unity government is to work on institutional changes aimed at addressing the root causes of the crisis, not least the equitable and transparent distribution of resources to South Sudan’s 64 tribes. But many observers wonder whether the rival factions will be able to pull together in the interests of .
“It won’t be easy for [Kiir and Machar] to work together, though I don’t think it is impossible,” said Akol. “There are pressures that will force them, but whether it will be harmonious enough to deliver reforms that have been included in the peace agreement is anybody’s guess.”