June 6, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs has urged the Kenyan government to “curtail” its contact with the country’s armed opposition group led by former vice-president Riek Machar in order to avoid creating “gaps in bilateral” ties.
- South Sudan’s former vice-president and leader of the SPLM in Opposition, Riek Machar (L), gives a joint press statement with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in the capital, Nairobi, on 30 May 2014 (ST)
The comments come after a group of Kenyan MPs criticised president Uhuru Kenyatta over what they described as a “red carpet” reception accorded to Machar during a six-day visit to the country last week.
The groups has also warned the move could damage Kenya’s position as a neutral party in the South Sudan crisis, which has raged for almost six months after political tensions erupted in violence in mid-December last year.
Meanwhile, the South Sudanese government has also expressed concern over the continued detention of its citizens renting homes in Kenyan towns and their treatment by police.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Friday, ministry spokesperson Mawien Makol Arik said the Kenyan ambassador to the country, Cleland Leshore, had been was summonsed by foreign affairs minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin over the matter.
According to Arik, 15 South Sudanese citizens have been rounded up in Nakuru and deported to Kakuma refugee camp, while about 20 citizens were also detained in Nairobi without reason.
“We feel that when we are in Kenya, we at home. We cannot feel that we are being targeted in our second home,” said Arik.
We call [on] him (Cleland) to justify why this is happening in Nairobi and other towns,” he added.
Asked whether relations between Kenya and South Sudan are at risk of deteriorating following the public activities of the rebel leader in Nairobi recently, Arik said both governments remained in contacts over the issue.
KENYA “HOSTING DISSIDENTS”
South Sudan retains strong ties to Kenya and the families of many senior government officials are based there.
Thousands of South Sudanese also rent homes in Kenyan towns, having taken refuge during the 1983-2005 civil war with neighbouring Sudan that ended with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, paving the way for the country’s secession in 2011.
However, South Sudan has expressed concern over the Kenyan government’s decision to host a group of senior politicians detained in connection to an alleged coup plot to overthrow the government.
The group, known as G11, was accepted by Kenya following their release. Although initially aligned with Machar, the group has since refused to take sides, instead opting to form a third bloc.
“They (rebels) are free to be in Kenya because they are citizens of South Sudan, but the matter of fact is that they needed to be curtailed. They (rebels) need to be put aside when it comes to our relations because we don’t want to see Kenya hosting dissidents of the government,” Arik said.
“We don’t have this notion of creating gaps with [the] Kenyan government. It is something the Kenyan government has to deal with,” he added.
Machar was received by Kenyatta at the State House in Nairobi following his arrival in the capital, where the two leaders reportedly discussed the way forward for the peace process in South Sudan.
However, five Kenyan MPs protested over Kenyatta’s decision to hold the meeting, describing it as an insult to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir.