February 16, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudan’s former vice president turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, said the decision of the seven recently released party leaders to form a third bloc “does not help the cause” of the resistance.
- South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar, gestures as he talks to his men in Jonglei state on 31 January 2014 (Reuters: Goran Tomasevic)
He, however, maintained that he respected their decision not to join either side in the country’s two-month conflict.
The seven leaders were released as part of the agreement signed on 23 January between the government of President Salva Kiir and the SPLM-In-Opposition.
During a meeting held in Nairobi after their release, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) invited them to join the peace talks in the Ethiopian capital as a neutral group.
The group on Friday February 13 declared that they would not join either Kiir or Machar, and instead formed what they called ’SPLM leaders former detainees’. Machar’s political views were initially seen as in line with those of the former detainees.
Machar confirmed to Sudan Tribune on Sunday that he politically shared views with the seven leaders, only that they had now shied away from the "armed resistance".
"I didn’t understand their decision. We only differ in the armed resistance. Their decision doesn’t help the cause, but it is their choice," he added.
He went further to suspect that the leaders were under pressure by IGAD to remain as such.
Nonetheless, the rebel leader demanded the release of the remaining four leaders, namely Pagan Amum, Oyai Deng, Majak Agot and Ezekiel Lol, saying the participation of the seven leaders at the talks would be "inadequate" without those in detention.
The four, Machar and two others still at large face treason charges.
He accused President Kiir’s government of holding hostage the four detained leaders, stressing that it also "amounted to the series of violations of the agreements signed by the two parties".
Fighting broke out in mid-December between the presidential guards in the capital, Juba and quickly spread to three other states in the country.
President Kiir immediately accused his former deputy Machar of attempting a coup, which the latter denied saying it was a ploy by the president to try to silence his political opponents within the ruling party (SPLM).