May 26, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s government has downplayed the significance of an impending visit by former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
- South Sudan’s former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar pictured in rebel-controlled territory in Jonglei state on 1 February 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny told reporters on Monday that the visit would not affect diplomatic ties between the two nations if the intention is to solicit support aimed at ending ongoing conflict in the country in a way that reflects neutrality.
“Our relations with Sudan at the moment are progressively growing well. We have the cooperation agreement which guides our relations in supporting the vision of the two separate and viable states,” Ateny said. “So the government thinks that the visit should not impact negatively on the relations between the countries. But if he (Machar) goes to Khartoum in order to lobby for war or for the assistance to continue the war; that will be very unfortunate,” he added.
The presidential aide was reacting to Machar’s widely publicised planned visit to Khartoum, where according to sources, the rebel leader is expected to hold a series of meetings with key government officials.
The visit is part of a regional tour to member states of the of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African bloc currently mediating negotiations aimed at ending the more than five-month-long conflict.
Rebel sources say the visit would focus exclusively on issues related to ongoing dialogue in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, with the Sudanese government as the only viable means to end the conflict.
“War was never part of our strategic goal, although the government of president] Salva Kiir imposed on our people. It was only an act of self-defence because no one can allow him or her to be killed in a country where justice is unheard,” said Hussein Maar Nyuot, the former deputy governor of Jonglei state and now spokesperson of the rebel delegation, told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
A political split within South Sudan’s ruling SPLM party erupted in violence in mid-December last year, pitting government loyalists against pro-Machar rebel forces, largely comprising of dissident soldiers and ethnic militias.
The conflict has had a devastating impact on local communities and infrastructure across the new nation, with violence displacing more than 1.3 million people.
Machar’s planned visit follows an earlier visit by Kiir last month during which he discussed bilateral relations and security issues with his Sudanese counterpart, Omer Hassan al-Bashir.
There were reports that the two leaders also discussed measures to protect oilfields against potential attacks by South Sudanese rebels and that Kiir had asked Bashir to back his country’s efforts to exclude a group of former political detainees reportedly sympathetic to Machar from peace talks.
Rebels have repeatedly accused Sudanese rebels of fighting alongside government troops inside South Sudanese territory.
Khartoum has acknowledged that armed Sudanese groups, namely Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), are involved in the conflict. The South Sudanese government denies the claims.