August 9, 2016 (JUBA) - The spokesman of South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, said the return of the ousted First Vice President, Riek Machar, to his position is at the mercy of Taban Deng Gai who replaced him.
- South Sudanese Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny addresses journalists following renewed fighting in Juba July 11, 2016 (Reuters Photo)
Presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, whose government had accepted in principle and welcomed the deployment of the regional protection force in the country, said the government would not be compelled to remove the new first vice president if he does not want to step down from his new role.
"They (regional countries) are urging him (Machar) to return to Juba. What happens if he returns is an internal matter. And this matter lies with Taban Deng Gai to decide whether to step down or does what he thinks is right in the interest of peace. What is clear is that there is no law compelling him to do so. The IGAD has allowed the current setting and it is a matter of Deng to decide if he steps down and go back as minister,” explained Ateny in an interview with reporters on Monday.
This came after Juba last week agreed to allow in foreign troops as part of the African Standby force agreed upon by the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
It further encourages Machar to rejoin the peace process and for President Kiir and people to embrace a return to the spirit of long lasting peace in their country. During the recent IGAD summit in Ethiopia, South Sudan agreed to the deployment of protection forces in Juba.
But the opposition faction led by Machar accused President Salva Kiir of using Gai to divide the SPLM-IO and destroy the peace deal. They also warned that destroying the peace agreement can backfire on all.
“President Kiir and his group may be excited that they have a yes man through whom to destroy the peace agreement by dividing the SPLM-IO. But this will backfire on them if their goal is to return the country to war. You may not know what will happen next in a situation of war,” said James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesperson.
He said Gai has quickly denied the existence of SPLA-IO army per the agreement, calling on it to be immediately integrated under his new commander-in-chief and also compromised other provisions of the peace deal, including "surrendering the speakership of the national parliament to President Kiir’s faction."
He said the best thing for the country is to fully implement the peace agreement by undoing the “illegal” actions recently decreed by President Kiir, and get back to the path of peace.
New first vice president Gai, who led South Sudan government delegation to the summit known as IGAD-Plus, said he was ready to step down from his position and give it back to Riek Machar once he returns to Juba. But this contradicted his earlier public comment which called on Machar to return to Juba as normal citizen or stay in exile until 2018 elections.
IGAD Executive Secretary, Mahboub Maalim, said the Heads of State of member states have directed the chiefs of staff to go to Juba and discuss the modalities of deployment of the protection force with the government of South Sudan.
"The government of South Sudan has accepted with no condition the deployment of protection force," he said.
Gai replaced Machar in the wake of renewed violent fighting in the capital Juba between 8 and 11 July, which left about 300 people killed and 60,000 others seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The supporters of Gai cited failure to communicate with their leader to replace him but it remains to be seen if the seeming ambitious Gai will relinquish the seat.
Machar in his Aljazeera TV interview last week said he had delegated his deputy, Alfred Ladu Gore, to act on his behalf until he returned to Juba, but Gai, who is junior as number four in the hierarchy of the SPLM-IO leadership, grabbed the seat.
Machar’s spokesman, Dak, sees the changes as illegal and argues that Machar remains the legitimate leader of the armed opposition recognized by the peace agreement.
"Dr. Riek Machar remains the legitimate First Vice President of South Sudan. Whoever sneaked in the office illegally in violation of the August 2015 peace agreement should step down. All the SPLA-IO ministers illegally replaced will be reinstated under their legitimate leader," Dak said .
He also criticized President Kiir for accepting an illegal replacement process of “self-nomination” of Gai, saying this indicated that it was a conspiracy involving President Kiir.
South Sudan has faced ongoing challenges since 2013 between the two leaders erupted into full blown conflict. The crisis has produced one of the world’s worst displacement situations with immense suffering for civilians.
Despite the August 2015 peace agreement that formally ended the war, conflict and instability have spread to areas which previously were unaffected in the Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr-El-Ghazal regions of South Sudan.
In July, deadly clashes in Wau resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people, while up to 35,000 fled their homes and sought refuge either in churches or at a place adjacent to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s branch office in the area.