March 14, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The leader of the South Sudan rebels, Riek Machar, has strongly rejected the proposed deployments of regional forces by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and warned to boycott the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa, unless the decision was reversed.
- South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar, gestures as he talks to his men in Jonglei state on 31 January 2014 (Reuters: Goran Tomasevic)
Machar condemned the proposed deployments of such forces, warning that it will widen and regionalize the current violent conflict which began as an internal misunderstanding in the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
"This is an unfortunate decision by IGAD to interfere in the internal conflict. We reject it and condemn it in the strongest terms. It is an attempt to regionalize the internal conflict," he told Sudan Tribune on Friday by phone from one of his bases in Upper Nile state.
The former vice president, turned rebel leader, said the decision questioned the neutrality of the IGAD member states in the conflict.
"If IGAD member states who mediate the peace talks want to interfere militarily in the conflict, we may rethink our participation in the talks," he warned.
He questioned whether the Uganda-led forces previously deployed by the African Union to the South Sudan’s state of Western Equatoria state did carry out their mandate as planned, adding that the IGAD member states should have learnt from them.
The African Union last year established a task-force composed of troops from Uganda and South Sudan to hunt down the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the state. However, most of the Ugandan forces stationed in Western Equatoria have now shifted to Central Equatoria and Jonglei states to instead fight against the rebels led by Machar.
Machar said the decision was an attempt to replace the UPDF forces of Uganda with these multi-national forces.
He said the 15,000-strong peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that are already in the country have the full mandate to protect civilians in crisis of such kind, adding it was unfortunate for IGAD to replicate the situation brought about by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).
Uganda which initially sent forces into South Sudan to help protect “vital infrastructures” ended up joining the military operations against the rebels.
In their 13 March final communiqué in the 25th extraordinary summit in Addis Ababa, IGAD heads of state resolved to deploy to South Sudan an unknown number of what they called Protection and Deterrent Force (PDF).
These forces would be selected from four countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi starting next month to protect oilfields and other "vital infrastructures" in the country.