Stage set for return of South Sudan's Riek Machar

Formation of unity government expected if rebel leader arrives in capital Juba in first step towards ending civil war.

    Machar was due to arrive to Juba on Monday, but a prolonged disagreement prevented his return [AP]
    Machar was due to arrive to Juba on Monday, but a prolonged disagreement prevented his return [AP]

    Juba, South Sudan - The government of South Sudan and the rebel SPLA-IO have reached an agreement to bring opposition leader Riek Machar back to the capital, according to a statement from the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission.

    Machar's expected return on Saturday sets the stage for the formation of a unity government under President Salva Kiir, a crucial step in ending the country's civil war.

    South Sudan rebel leader's return repeatedly delayed

    Machar was due to arrive to Juba on Monday, but a prolonged disagreement with the government - over the number of troops travelling with the rebel leader and weapons they were allowed to carry - prevented his return.

    According to a statement from Festus Mogae, JMEC chairman, Machar is expected to arrive in Juba on Saturday, and a unity government is to be immediately formed.

    "No further delay is tolerable," said Mogae.

    Since December 2013, the government and opposition have been engaged in a brutal conflict that has killed more than 50,000 and displaced more than two million people.

    Both sides of the conflict have been accused of committing war crimes.

    A peace agreement between the government and opposition was signed in August but has yet to be fully implemented.

    Diplomats have worked overtime to bring Machar back to Juba.

    READ MORE: South Sudan's displaced women hold communities together

    On Thursday, a coalition of countries and international organisations in South Sudan delivered an ultimatum, saying that Machar should be allowed to travel with 195 troops, in addition to 20 PKM machineguns and 20 rocket-propelled grenades.

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    The opposition accepted the deal, but the government initially objected to allowing the additional weapons.

    On Friday, the government agreed to the international community's demands, according to the statement from JMEC, setting the stage for Machar's much anticipated return.

    Machar was last in Juba in December 2013, when an internal rift in the presidential guard sparked fighting, according to an African Union report in October.

    "Dinka members of the presidential guard and other security forces targeted Nuer soldiers and civilians," the report said.

    On Friday, Mogae said that he did not know if government forces had partially demilitarised Juba, as agreed to between both sides in the peace process.

    A spokesperson for the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism said the process of verifying the government demilitarisation of Juba is continuing.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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