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“Riek Machar is going to come. But when?”

Juba, South Sudan | AFP and agencies |

For the second day in a row South Sudan’s rebels have failed to organise their leader’s much-anticipated return to the capital, Juba, after more than two years of war. The government has blamed Riek Machar  (see statements below), accusing him of wanting to bring in extra troops and laser guided weapons.

Machar’s SPLM-IO in Opposition say logistical hiccups have delayed his arrival, and he should be in Juba Wednesday, April 20 (see statement below, and US reaction).

Machar, a former rebel leader turned deputy president who was fired, became a rebel leader again and has now fought his way back to the vice presidency, failed to appear in Juba as expected on Monday or Tuesday.

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.

Riek Machar's whereabouts not known
Riek Machar’s whereabouts not known

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 tribal 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.

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US disappointed with Machar

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The UN Security Council expressed “serious concern” on Tuesday over delays in the return of South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar to the capital Juba as part of a peace deal.

The 15-member council met behind closed doors at the request of the United States to hear a report on the latest hurdle in the way of the agreement to end the two-year civil war.

Council members “urged all parties to quickly form the transitional government and fully implement the peace agreement,” said Chinese Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao, whose country holds the council presidency.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council that there had been disagreements over security arrangements allowing rebel forces to be stationed in Juba in advance of Machar’s arrival, which was supposed to have been on Monday.

But he said he was hopeful that Machar would return on Wednesday, diplomats said.

The council called on all sides to “remain calm” and said it was “ready to address any obstruction of implementation of the agreement,” although it did not specify which measures were envisaged.

Under the peace deal, Machar was to join President Salva Kiir in a new 30-month transitional government leading to elections.

The deal is to end a devastating war that erupted in December 2013 after Kiir fell out with Machar, who was his deputy.

“The United States is extremely disappointed that Riek Machar has not fulfilled his commitments under the peace agreement and returned to Juba as he stated publicly he would,” said US Deputy Ambassador David Pressman.

“We expect Riek Machar and all parties to live up to their commitments under the peace agreement and do their part to establish the transitional government.”

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting and more than two million have been driven from their homes.

Machar was supposed to return to Juba for the first time since the war began from his tribal stronghold of Pagak in the east of the country to formally take up his post as vice president.

Speaking to reporters at Juba airport, rebel spokesmen William Ezekiel said on Tuesday that unspecified “issues relating to logistics” were to blame for the latest delay. He was unable to say when Machar might arrive.

South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei said the government had blocked Machar’s flight because he wanted to bring “machine guns and laser-guided missiles” as well as additional troops in violation of the peace agreement.

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.

STATEMENT FROM SOUTH SUDAN GOVERNMENT and STATEMENT FROM SPLM in Opposition

South Sudan Government Statement on Machar by The Independent Magazine

SPLA SPLM STATMENT April 19 2016

RELATED STORY: South Sudan botches rebel chief Machar’s return

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