Sacked South Sudan First Vice President Riek Machar is warning of another imminent war even as the government under President Salva Kiir defended its decision to replace Machar from the post.
On Tuesday evening, President Kiir’s office said the decision was made within the law because the nominating organ; former rebels, had said Riek Machar who held the position had absconded duty.
In a sign of deepening crisis within the government in Juba, President Kiir said the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) wrote to him advising a replacement as is required by the peace agreement the two sides signed.
Mr Jimmy Makuach, South Sudan’s Deputy Head of Mission in Nairobi said President Kiir was only following instructions from the SPLM-IO who had decided to withdraw Riek Machar from the position.
“The affair was completely the business of the IO. The Government under President Salva Kiir only listens to them because they are partners in the peace agreement.
“The agreement says in the event the position of the First Vice President falls vacant, the leadership of the IO nominates a replacement,” Mr Makuach told the Nation last evening.
On Monday, the rebel groups claimed they had come under attack from government forces looking to locate Riek Machar but said they will fight back if the bombardment continues.
“He is now in the bush but they are trying to track him down. If the situation allows he will come out of the bush and tell the world what happened. But he retains the right to self defence if attacked.”
Article 6.4 of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan says the former rebels generally known by their acronym SPLM/A-IO and who are entitled to the position of First Vice President can determine a replacement, if it falls vacant, within 48 hours.
Though the peace deal says nothing on whether the holder of the position can be withdrawn or changed, it gives the holder powers to delegate an official to act on his behalf if he is away.
President Kiir appointed Taban Deng Gai to the post on the “recommendation of the top leadership of the SPLM/A (IO)” even though Machar had announced he had fired Gai from the post of Mining Minister “for defecting” to the SPLM/A in Government under President Kiir.
The decision followed confusing events at the weekend. On Friday, Machar ‘fired’ Deng Gai. On Saturday, group of SPLM/A-IO officials gathered in Juba to announced they were nominating Machar’s replacement for the President to appoint.
They picked on Deng Gai, a man who had been Machar’s lead negotiator during the run-up to the peace agreement. Then Deng denied he had been fired arguing the correct procedure do so was not in Machar’s hands but the party’s leadership called the Political Bureau.
The group then wrote to President Kiir who in turn issued a decree. Last evening, Machar’s side argued the replacement announced on Monday was illegal and accused the President of sabotaging the peace deal.
“It is a conspiracy to destroy the peace agreement. Deng was intentionally picked by the President because he will do according to the wishes of Kiir’s government.
NO CONTROL OVER FORCES
“There is only one Commander-in-Chief of the SPLM/A-IO and that is Dr Riek Machar. Deng Gai has no control over the forces of the SPLM/A-IO and 95 per cent of leaders in the party support Dr Machar.”
Riek Machar’s Spokesman James Dak told the Nation.
Machar’s Spokesman accused Kiir of “using a group of defectors from the streets” to make decisions for the party when its real leadership was not even in Juba. According to him, only the Political Bureau made up of 23 members can change the leadership and overall decisions are made by the National Liberation Council made up of 200 delegates.
Only 4 members of the Political Bureau were present in Juba on Saturday, he claimed.
Dr Riek Machar ran away from Juba two weeks ago after violence erupted killing at least 300 people. He has refused to return demanding that the buffer force proposed by the AU be deployed to prevent further violence between the two sides. Yet he argues he has neither absconded nor opted to leave the post.
On Tuesday evening, Mr Makuach said there had been no official communication to the President and Riek Machar to dismiss Gai from the cabinet.
“There was no letter signed by Machar to dismiss Taban Deng Gai. It is only his spokesman who said it in the media.
“Even the leadership of the SPLA-IO themselves are saying there is a procedure to fire somebody. You don’t just disagree with me and say I have fired you.”