South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar has accused rival military leaders, who announced he had been deposed as leader of the political party and the armed forces, of trying to block the country’s peace process.
On Wednesday, the military wing of his SPLM/A-IO movement said it had removed Machar, who helped push his partner, President Salva Kiir, to a peace deal in 2018 and the subsequent formation of a unity government, for undermining reforms.
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But in a rejoinder issued late on the same day, Machar said those who had issued the statement were no longer members of the movement’s military command council.
“It is regrettable that the declaration was engineered and facilitated by peace spoilers,” Machar said in a statement issued after a meeting of his party’s Political Bureau, deeming the declaration as “ill-fated”.
“The Political Bureau assures the members of the SPLM/A (IO) and the people of South Sudan in general that the situation is under control,” he added.
Machar said the main aim of the move was to stop the forces from being integrated into the national command, one of the outstanding key objectives of the peace deal.
In the announcement deposing Machar, his opponents said the party’s chief of staff, First Lieutenant General Simon Gatwech Dual, was nominated to serve as interim party leader.
With the army still divided and some fighting groups refusing to sign the peace deal, the latest split in Machar’s movement could undermine stability, political analysts said.
The world’s youngest nation faces economic disaster and its worst hunger crisis since independence, with tens of thousands of people enduring famine-like conditions.
Already, there are calls for a peaceful public uprising to topple the current regime and end the chronic political and economic crisis.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but descended into fighting two years later when forces loyal to Kiir and Machar clashed in the capital.
That sparked the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Juba from Machar’s Nuer ethnic group and a spiral of brutal ethnic violence and revenge killings.
The bloodshed spiralled into a civil war that killed 400,000 people and triggered Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
In 2018, after a string of failed peace accords and violated ceasefires, a fresh truce paused the fighting.
Under that arrangement, Machar entered another unity government as deputy to Kiir in February 2020.