We are not after Riek Machar's life, says South Sudan

South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng addresses journalists in Nairobi yesterday. He accused former Vice President Riek Machar of frustrating the peace agreement, and blamed him for the problems facing the world’s youngest nation. (PHOTO: EDWARD KIPLIMO/ STANDARD)
The Government of South Sudan has dismissed claims that it is plotting to kill rebel leader Riek Machar.

South Sudan's first vice president Taban Deng Gai yesterday said that no one was after the life of his predecessor and emphasised that all the citizens of the youngest nation in the world want is peace.

But Mr Gai, a former ally of Machar and who was among the top leaders in the opposition-led Sudan People's Liberation Movement-In-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), however warned Machar against attempting to invade Juba.

"Nobody is willing to kill Machar. It would have been easy for President Salva Kiir to eliminate him if he wished during the time he was holed up in the presidential palace when fighting broke out," said the VP.

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"But I am cautioning him that the idea of marching to Juba with his troops doesn't look good. If he marches to Juba, the forces protecting the city will be ready to deal with him. If anyone resorts to violence, as a military officer he knows violence has its consequences," he added.

Gai accused Machar of frustrating the peace agreement and blamed him for the problems facing the country.

"When he was the vice president, there was no progress in the implementation of the peace agreement. What was lacking when he was in office was cohesive leadership as President Kiir had no good working relationship with his deputy then," he explained.

He observed that Machar was leading a parallel government in Juba and had his parallel army, which nearly took the country back to another round of civil war.

He further added that the government was determined to unite the armed forces.

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"We have moved fast to unite the army and we want our troops to be fully united by May next year. We are also currently sending committees and delegations to all the states for peace dissemination.

"Machar should denounce violence. In 1991 and 2013, people lost their lives because he wanted to be a vice president. The same should not happen in 2016."

Speaking at a press briefing in Nairobi yesterday, the VP, who was accompanied by Cabinet ministers Dak Bichiok (Petroleum), Kuol Manyang Juu (Defence) and Martin Elia (Cabinet Affairs), maintained that the country was on the right track as far as peace was concerned.

However he also said he was willing to step down for Machar should he decide to return to Juba for the sake of peace.

DENOUNCE VIOLENCE

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Gai however warned that the former vice president must denounce violence or face severe consequences if he chooses to engage government troops.

He spoke as reports suggested that Machar was wounded and currently in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to diplomatic sources in DRC.

Machar is said to be seeking the support of officials in the DRC government to help evacuate him to safety and give him medicine, food and military protection.

According to the reports, Machar crossed into DRC through Maridi on the border between the vast central African nation and South Sudan on August 12, with about 100 soldiers including a Brigadier General. He was said to be wounded in the leg.

By yesterday, he and his forces were said to be holed up in Dungu in the north-eastern tip of DRC anticipating evacuation to an unknown destination.

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The sources further allege that after entering Dungu, Machar established contacts with top officials within the political and military establishments of DRC, asking for evacuation and aid.

Officials within the Chad government also approached Kinshasa seeking assistance for Machar.

"The DRC government has been reluctant to send its military to Maridi and Dungu due to their remoteness and closeness to the Ugandan and South Sudanese borders," said a diplomatic source.

The source further indicated yesterday that officials within the DRC government contacted an international agency to send a private aircraft or helicopter and evacuate the stranded Sudanese using two contacts in Nairobi, including a Congolese and a Kenyan.

On Tuesday, Gai held a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta, where he briefed him about efforts by the South Sudan government to implement peace in line with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) recommendations.

Gai was sworn in by President Salva Kiir mid-July to replace Machar who fled Juba after fighting erupted in the capital. Machar and the president have traded accusations since, with each claiming an assassination plot against the other.

Gai was the chief negotiator for Machar and the SPLA-IO during protracted talks leading to the formation of a government of national unity early this year.

GRAVE CRIMES

The talks followed the eruption of fighting in December 2013  between soldiers and militias allied to Machar and the president.

The UN and several global organisations blame both sides for committing grave crimes, mass rape and ethnic cleansing in the course of the war that assumed a tribal angle.

Following the outbreak of fresh fighting last month, Machar's forces remain either in their strongholds in the north of South Sudan or the nation's Western Equatoria and Bahr Ghazal.

Machar fled Juba after troops loyal to him engaged in a fight with the government army early last month. The fighting resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and displacement of thousands others.

Bichiok, the Petroleum minister, said the oil-rich country would soon boost its oil production, which had been in decline due to the war.

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Riek MacharPresident Salva KiirTaban Deng GaiSouth Sudan crisis