SOUTH Sudan’s main rebel leader postponed his return to the capital until further notice, delaying the enactment of a deal that seeks to end a two-year civil war in which tens of thousands of people have died.
Riek Machar’s planned Tuesday trip to Juba to resume his role as vice president was canceled because South Sudan’s government didn’t give clearance for an aircraft carrying his chief of staff, a spokesman for the rebel advance team, William Ezekiel, told reporters in the city.
Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said the government was told Machar wanted to arrive with heavy weaponry that he didn’t need as almost 1,400 rebels are already in the capital as part of a security arrangement. Addressing reporters in Juba, he didn’t say whether authorities denied airspace to Machar’s colleague.
The government was disappointed by Machar’s failure to arrive, Lueth said.
Riek Machar, a former rebel leader turned deputy president who was fired, also failed to appear in Juba in on Monday as first expected.
Speaking to reporters staking out Juba’s airport since early Monday, rebel spokesmen William Ezekiel said on Tuesday afternoon that unspecified “issues relating to logistics” were to blame for the latest delay. He was unable to say when Machar might now arrive.
“He is going to come. But when?” Ezekiel said. It was unclear whether the question was rhetorical.
“We will update you,” he added.
Machar’s homecoming and subsequent swearing-in as vice president are seen as important steps towards implementing a floundering August 2015 peace deal that has so far failed to end the country’s civil war, sparked by a wrangling for power between Machar and President Salva Kiir.
The conflict characterised by extreme brutality and human rights violations has killed tens of thousands, forced millions from their homes and split the country along old ethnic fissures.
Machar is believed to be either in his stronghold of Pagak in the east of the country or in Gambella, Ethiopia, where there is an airstrip large enough to land a plane to carry him and his entourage to Juba.
Various rebel officials have given differing explanations for the delays, with some citing difficulties in getting Machar’s bodyguards’ weapons across the border while others blamed bad weather.
Other sources suggested the presence of Machar’s UN and US sanctioned chief of staff, Simon Gatwech Dual, in the rebel travelling party, was the hitch.