August 19, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – An official of the South Sudan’s armed faction of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM-In-Opposition) said the recent negative comments uttered against their leader, Riek Machar, by South Sudanese officials in Juba were lacking spirit to recognise the great roles he played that lead to the birth of the new country on 9 July 2011.
- SPLM-in-Opposition leader Riek Machar talks to the media after his meeting with president Omer al-Bashir on 10 August 2014 (ST)
On Sunday South Sudanese deputy education minister Bol Makueng, who spoke on behalf of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), slashed at the former vice- president saying Machar had divided the efforts of the country’s long liberation struggle in 1991 at the height of the civil war with the north when the then guerrilla movement had almost liberated much of what constitutes present day South Sudan.
He accused the rebel leader of allegedly repeating the same scenario by seeking military assistance from Khartoum, which he said supported Machar in 1990s.
The ruling party’s spokesman was referring to the recent visit to Khartoum by the rebel leader who met president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and other officials of government.
His comments followed calls from South Sudan urging the government of neighbouring Sudan, from which South Sudan seceded in 2011, to sever all ties with pro-Machar rebels.
Makueng uttered the comments to reporters in Juba while making an official statement on Sunday in commemoration of the 59th anniversary of 18 August 1955 Torit mutiny.
He accused Machar of dividing the people of South Sudan in August 1991 and had now repeated the same in December 2013.
However, the South Sudanese opposition leader’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, fired back by dismissing the allegations, saying the rebel group was not seeking military support from Khartoum. He also criticized Juba for not recognizing great role played by Machar.
“First of all Dr Riek Machar didn’t go to Khartoum to seek military support. He went to Khartoum to garner support for the IGAD-mediated peace process. President Bashir is the head of the Sudanese state which is an IGAD member country,” he told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday in response to the allegation.
He said the rebel group was committed to the peace process and saw it important to consult with regional leaders on how best they could support the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa.
Dak further criticised officials in Juba, saying they also “have no high moral ground when they dismantled the ruling SPLM party and invited foreign army, Sudanese rebel groups and mercenaries to help them fight against democracy; brutally massacring countless innocent citizens and destroying the country.”
He said the war was imposed on the people of South Sudan by president Salva Kiir and “his cohorts, some of whom have been serving as devil advocates uttering baseless comments.”
MACHAR PLAYED GREAT ROLE
Dak further said those who attempted to deny Machar’s role in the 21 years of the liberation struggle were simply lacking the spirit to recognise his “enormous” contributions toward the independence of South Sudan.
The rebel leader’s spokesman said the former vice-president was a champion of self-determination which his critics were now “enjoying its fruits in denial.”
“During the war with Khartoum Dr Riek Machar was calling for the right to self-determination through an internationally supervised referendum. He was also calling for democratization of the movement and respect for human rights. He played a great role in championing self-determination which our people had been demanding for decades,” he said.
“We are now an independent nation because of the self-determination he and his colleagues championed during the liberation struggle,” he added.
Dak challenged that certain leaders wouldn’t like and enjoy the outcome of the idea and at the same time dislike the person who played a leading role in championing that idea.
“This is a self-contradiction. It is a strange lack of spirit to recognize somebody’s contribution.”
Machar, he said, was also one of the best field commanders who fought historical battles during the north-south civil war, adding the former vice president also championed peace as the best option to end the 21 years of the conflict when he chose the path of dialogue with Khartoum.
He also played a great role as former vice-president of the then semi-autonomous South Sudan, he said, when Machar during the six years of interim period headed a high level committee of the South Sudan’s ruling party, SPLM, and implemented the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with north Sudan.
The rebel leader’s spokesman however acknowledged that “unintended” mistakes were made in the past, but cautioned that people should free themselves from the bitterness drawn from the past.
“Many unintended mistakes happened during the liberation struggle. Many if not all the leaders present during the liberation war made mistakes either collectively or individually. Nobody acted like an angel. And in war many unavoidable things happen,” he said.
He further accused some leaders of having stuck with the past and made themselves slaves of the past bitterness, reminding that there was no single SPLM leader spared from responsibilities of the past.
In 1984 Machar, who joined the liberation war in 1983 while in the United Kingdom, became the first representative of the movement in Addis Ababa. He was then commissioned to the rank of a major after completing military training in Bonga, Ethiopia, and led forces as a military field commander from 1986 to 1991.
On 28 August 1991 he split from the mainstream rebel movement (SPLM) led by its founder, late John Garang, and led a separate movement when the two differed over the main objective of the movement: self-determination for the people of South Sudan versus united democratic secular Sudan.
In 1997 he signed the Khartoum peace agreement (KPA) on the basis of self-determination, but the accord was dishonoured, prompting him to return to the bush.
On 6 January 2002, the two leaders merged their forces by signing the Nairobi declaration in which they agreed to pursue the twin objectives of self-determination leading to independence of South Sudan and maintenance of united Sudan on the basis of secular democracy.
In her remarks following the fallout with the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir, the widow of late Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng, cautioned politicians under Salva Kiir’s government not to dwell on the 1991 split to sideline Machar, accusing them of using it as an excuse for their own failure.
Nyandeng and Machar reconciled in 2011 and pledged to forgive one another over the past incidences.
Also the eldest son of late Garang, Mabior Garang de Mabior, has joined Machar in the current armed resistance against president Kiir’s government, accusing his father’s former right hand man of dictatorship. He has taken the assignment as the head of information and public relations in the opposition faction led by Machar.