By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 7, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Thousands of South Sudanese from across the United States took to the streets in Washington on Tuesday, calling for the immediate removal of president Salva Kiir from power.
- A demonstrator in Washington holds a sign calling for the removal of South Sudanese president Salva Kiir on 6 August 2014
Miyong Kuon, the rebel faction’s UN representative, told Sudan Tribune by email that the demonstration was also in protest at the White House’s invitation to Kiir to attend the US-Africa summit currently underway in Washington.
President Kiir is one of 48 African leaders currently taking part in the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit, which aims to advance multilateral ties between Africa and the US.
The rebel official said the demonstration took place near the JW Marriot hotel where Kiir is staying.
Protesters angered by current situation in South Sudan chanted, “Down-down Kiir”, “down-down genocidal president”.
Emotions were running high at the demonstration, with some protesters breaking down in tears while calling for Kiir’s removal, according to Kuon.
The White House has come under fire for inviting Kiir, who many accuse of inflaming the violence in South Sudan, with more than 12,000 activists writing president Barack Obama and US secretary of state John Kerry to raise their concerns about the summit.
Foreign Policy reports that multiple sources said that officials within the state department had urged the White House to rescind Kiir’s invitation amid fears his presence in Washington would hinder peace negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but those calls were ultimately rejected.
Critics say Kiir should be attending peace talks where he could affect real change for his country and that his presence at the summit is nothing more than a photo-op.
Violence flared in South Sudan in mid-December last year following a political split within the ruling SPLM, pitting troops loyal to Kiir against rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar.
The rapid escalation of the conflict has alarmed the international community and its regional neighbours amid fears the young nation, which seceded from Sudan in 2011, could implode.
Following Tuesday’s rally, protesters attended a briefing with a rebel delegation led by Ezekiel Lol, the current deputy chairman for the opposition group’s external relations committee.
Kuon, along with Stephen Par Kuol, head of the national committee for education, and the rebel group’s US representative, Reath Muoch, also briefed protesters.
Lol, a former diplomat to the US, told protesters the war in South Sudan must come to and end, adding that Kiir’s presence on US soil was not significant.
“Washington DC is not Salva Kiir’s world, it’s our world,” Lol told the crowd. “We came here (the US) to tell the world our side of the story.”
- South Sudanese demonstrators gathered outside president Salva Kiir’s hotel in Washington on 6 August 2014 calling for his resignation
The demonstration was organised by a number of US-based civil society groups who hold Kiir personally responsible for the deaths of tens and thousands of people since the conflict erupted.
MACHAR TO BLAME
In comments before a meeting with Kerry on Tuesday, Kiir accused Machar of having lost control of his forces.
“If the two sides – that is the government and the rebels – were forthcoming, all of them, this thing could have been resolved a long time back. But we get difficulty on the side of the rebels,” said Kiir.
His comments were backed by Kerry, who blamed Machar for violating a ceasefire agreement signed by the warring parties in January and recommitted to by the rival leaders in May.
“I just want the record to be clear that it is our judgment – and the former vice-president Mr Machar needs to understand this – that he has broken – it was his initiative that broke the agreement and took his troops back into a violent status,” said Kerry.
In a statement issued by the president’s office on Wednesday, Kiir thanked the US for its continued support and urged it to continue working to help the young nation realise its true potential.
“The US has helped us address the challenges that are the legacy of a century of colonial rule, decades of domination by the north and 22 years of ruinous civil war. Many American are now asking how to help South Sudan not only to make peace, but also to make progress. My answer: work with us to overcome these challenges,” he said.
PEACE TALKS STALL
Meanwhile, hopes to meet the 10 August deadline set by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is mediating peace talks, for the two conflicting parties to agree on a transitional government and implement a ceasefire deal were dashed on Tuesday after the rebel delegation boycotted the fifth round of talks, insisting that talks be restricted to the two warring factions.
Machar’s SPLM in Opposition delegation asserted that other stakeholders, including representatives of civil society organisations, faith-based groups, political parties and former SPLM detainees, should only engage in a consultative manner.
The rebel faction said that it believed the participation of other stakeholders in the IGAD-led peace process to end the almost eight-month-long conflict was “significant’’.
However, in a statement issued on Wednesday, the group said that “the nature of the conflict and its resolution requires that we conduct direct talks between the SPLM/SPLA (in Opposition) and the Government of Republic of South Sudan”, adding that these are “the parties to the conflict and it is imperative that they thrash out the root causes of the conflict in order to expedite a peace agreement”
IGAD has warned that it is prepared to take “punitive action” if the parties fail to enter into talks to reach a negotiated solution to end the war that has devastated the lives of millions of people.