South Sudan’s main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), said its leader Riek Machar will not return to South Sudan without any tangible peace deal with the government of President Salva Kiir.
Lam Gabriel, SPLM-IO Deputy Military Spokesman, said the former first deputy president who is currently exiled in South Africa will not come to South Sudan because of safety concerns.
“What will bring Riek Machar back to Juba is the peace agreement if it is signed in Addis Ababa because this fighting is beyond Machar and Kiir,” Gabriel said.
Machar fled South Sudan into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in July 2016 following renewed fighting between his forces and those loyal to the government in the capital, Juba.
President Kiir last week asked the rebel leader to return to South Sudan, pledging to give Machar state protection.
“Riek Machar should come back to Juba not as a political leader, but as a changed man who has renounced violence, and he will be accorded protection by the government of South Sudan,” Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Xinhua by phone.
“He would be able to run for any position in the future if there are elections in the country,” Ateny added.
But Gabriel dismissed the president’s pledge, saying they don’t trust the intentions of Kiir and the SPLM-IO would only return to Juba if there is peace in the East African nation.
“We are fighting for the people who are suffering in the refugee camps. We need to sign peace first and come to Juba when there is peace for the people of South Sudan,” Gabriel said.
South Sudan descended into civil war in late 20013, and the conflict has created one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
The UN estimates that about four million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under UN pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.
The next round of peace talks spearheaded by the East African bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are scheduled to reconvene in Ethiopia on May 17.