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News Analysis: South Sudan peace deal still intact despite Machar's absence

04 August 2016, 19:43

Juba (Xinhua) -- The South Sudan peace agreement is still intact, despite former first vice president Riek Machar's conspicuous absence from the capital Juba in the aftermath of intense fighting in July between his rebel troops and soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, analysts have said.

President Kiir replaced his erstwhile political foe Machar with his former chief negotiator Taban Deng, in the wake of fighting in Juba on July 8-11 that killed about 300 people and forced over 60,000 South Sudanese to flee to neighboring countries like Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.

This brings the total number of refugees to have fled the impoverished oil rich country to 900,000 since outbreak of the December 2013 conflict, according to United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR).

Deng has since assumed the vice presidency on the pretext of article 6.4 of the signed August 2015 peace agreement, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that calls for replacement of the position within 48 hours in case the holder suffers physical incapacity or infirmity.

Machar has since dubbed the appointment of his former mining minister in the transitional unity government illegal, and vowed to take over the capital Juba unless the IGAD intervention force agreed upon by the African Union sets foot in Juba to separate the two rival forces.

Juba has since rejected any deployment of foreign troops, saying the 12,000 United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeeping force is strong.

And in the way of cementing his position, the recently inaugurated Deng has gone on a charm offensive with his first stop in New York, to attend the UN General Assembly, where he will explain details on his new office and position on peace agreement of his Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in opposition (SPLM-IO) breakaway faction from Machar's mainstream SPLM-IO.

"The president sent his first vice-president to the UN general assembly as a peace gesture and a sign of his commitment to the peace agreement," said Presidential Spokesman Ateny wek Ateny on Wednesday in Juba.

Ateny added that Deng has since shown commitment to working with President Kiir to expeditiously implement the stalled peace agreement.

This came on the back of recent eruption of fighting in areas of Lanya and Nasir in the oil-rich Upper Nile state where some sizable number of troops loyal to Machar remained, after he returned to Juba in April 26 to take up his position.

Machar's spokesman James Gatdet Dak, said their forces were within proximity of the capital Juba, and that the SPLA-IO is determined to overrun Juba if the government fails to restore order and stability after he accused the South Sudan army (SPLA) of continued attacks on their forces believed to have dispersed around Lanya.

However, South Sudan army spokesman Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang told Xinhua that the recent fighting in Nasir on Sunday that went on for three-days was started by the armed opposition shelling their positions.

"They are the ones who started shelling our positions on Sunday. It took three days and yesterday there was limited shelling but of course we are still in control," he told Xinhua on Phone Wednesday.

He said the SPLA-IO is now split into two factions, the now SPLA-IO peace wing led by Taban and SPLA-IO led by Machar.

Zacharia Diing, senior policy analyst at the Sudd Institute think tank, said the peace agreement is still intact despite the now elusive SPLM-IO leader Machar saying to the contrary on being replaced as first vice president.

"He does not have to recognise Deng. The question is he still committed to the peace agreement. There are no two parties right now; SPLM-IO is still in Juba. What was done to replace him with Deng was done within the peace agreement," Zacharia observed.

He explained that Machar and his troops in the aftermath of the fighting are in a weak position to mount any serious challenge to the sitting government.

"Even if Machar was to come back I don't see him taking over the position from Deng because the new first vice president has shown strong interest," he revealed.

And this has been corroborated by Ateny, when he disclosed to Xinhua that Deng's appointment, contrary to earlier assertions that he would vacate the position as soon as Machar returned, was well calculated to leave out the latter completely as Deng is now the substantial deputy to the president.

"It is no longer a temporary position anymore because we have used article 6.4 of the peace agreement. So it is bygone," Ateny revealed.

Zacharia argued that the current developments is good for South Sudan, as it won't create power grid lock as Deng is willing to work in harmony with president Kiir unlike Machar who craves for political power despite the peace agreement creating a powerful vice presidency.

The signed peace agreement between the two parties, calls for consultation between the president and vice president before major decisions are undertaken, hence creating two power centers of influence.

Abraham Awolich, a Juba-based political and security analyst says the appointment of Deng came after SPLM-IO senior party officials in Juba failed to communicate with their leader Machar in the aftermath of recent fighting.

"His own party officials are trying to reach him but he can't be found and this creates a power vacuum," he noted.

He added that the appointment of Deng has salvaged the fragile peace agreement from collapsing.

"It has been saved by a partner to work with the president. He cannot make his own decisions without a partner," Awolich said.

Zacharia also added that the unity government was the only viable vehicle for securing peace and stability on condition the international community works with it in terms of provision of badly needed financial assistance for it to function.

- Reuters


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