South Sudan: Riek Machar ‘delayed over weapons dispute’

Disagreement over weapons is preventing rebel leader from returning to Juba to form unity government, officials say.

A disagreement over weapons is preventing South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar from returning to Juba, according to demands from a government official and a rebel spokesman.

Since December 2013, South Sudan has been crippled by a bloody civil war that has killed thousands, and displaced more than two million people.

Machar was expected to return to South Sudan’s capital on Monday to form a unity government led by President Salva Kiir.

But his return has been continuously delayed because of logistical issues, in addition to disagreements with the government over the number of forces in his delegation and the type of weapons they are carrying.

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On Wednesday, Peter Bashir Gbandi, the acting minister of foreign affairs, said Machar was welcome to travel to Juba with 195 forces carrying only their personal weapons.

William Ezekiel, a spokesman for the opposition, said on Wednesday night that Machar would indeed only travel to Juba with 195 troops, accompanied by their personal weapons, in addition to 20 rocket-propelled grenades and 20 machineguns.

However, according to a weapons manifest obtained by Al Jazeera on Monday, Machar and his delegation were trying to travel with 17 rocket-propelled grenades, one grenade launcher, two 12.7mm guns, and 23 PKM machineguns.

The weapons manifest appears to be signed, stamped, and dated by Machar. Ezekiel could not verify the authenticity of the document at the time of publishing.

During an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Machar said that his forces were carrying only “light weapons, personal weapons and light machineguns”.

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On Tuesday,  Michael Makuei Lueth, the minister of information, said that Machar’s plane was not allowed to land because he was trying to enter South Sudan with “an arsenal of arms, inter alia, anti-tanks, laser-guided missiles, and heavy machineguns”.

He also said that Machar and his delegation were trying to transport too many soldiers to Juba.

A weapons expert who reviewed the manifest said all the arms “would be considered either a small arm or light weapons”.

Diplomats have become frustrated with the unwillingness of both sides to put aside their differences that have caused continued delay of Machar’s return, which many see as a crucial step to form a transitional government and end the civil war.

Some are placing the blame squarely on Machar.

Machar’s failure to return to Juba represents a “wilful decision by him not to abide by his commitments” said  John Kirby, the US State Department spokesman, during a press briefing.

Source: Al Jazeera