The peace agreement signed a week ago in South Sudan risks collapsing as the warring sides continue to trade accusations of violations.
The cessation of hostilities agreement, which was signed on December 21 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was supposed to take effect on December 24, was violated less than 12 hours after the signing.
The Riek Machar-led rebel movement SPLM-IO accused government forces of attacking them in Kola in Fashoda State, Upper Nile and in Deim Jalab in western Barhr-el-Ghazal.
Col Gabriel Lam, spokesperson of the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), told The EastAfrican that they did not violate the agreement, as Dr Machar is the one who has been calling for the revitalisation of the August 2015 peace agreement.
“These attacks on the SPLA-IO bases are not only directed towards our fighters but also towards the civilians in areas under the control of the SPLA-IO forces; causing destruction, death and displacement of civil populations,” said Col Lam, who said SPLA-IO will remain in their current locations and only act in self-defence.
However, SPLA spokesperson Gen Lulu Ruai Koang issued a statement accusing the rebels of carrying out attacks on government forces in five states of Yei River, Northern Liech, Amadi, Awiel East and Fashoda. They also called upon Igad to send a committee and peace monitors to investigate the latest violations.
President Salva Kiir has told the army not to retaliate against rebels in order to honour the latest cessation of hostilities agreement, after the military clashed with rebels in Yei River and Unity States.
“Soon the international community will say all sides are guilty of violations of ceasefire. But now, we will keep our word. I assure you that we are not going on the offensive,” said President Kiir.
South Sudanese ambassador to Ethiopia, James Morgan, who is also the Special Representative to the African Union, told The EastAfrican that the rebels have decided not to honour the cessation of hostilities agreement until Dr Machar is released from house arrest in South Africa.
While President Kiir lobbied countries in the region to isolate Dr Machar, which saw him restricted in Pretoria from December 2016. Mr Morgan said the leaders of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) are the ones who decided that Dr Machar is a war monger and should be exiled.
In April 2017, Julius Malema, leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters Party, claimed that Juba was paying Pretoria $449,000 a month to hold Dr Machar in confinement against his will. President Jacob Zuma’s government did not respond to the allegations.
Dr Machar did not attend the week-long Igad talks in Addis Ababa although his group was represented by his deputy Henry Odwar. His continued confinement in South Africa has become a big issue and some opposition groups are now threatening that unless he is released, they might boycott the main talks set for February.
In a letter addressed to Igad chairperson, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, the group — who included some of the signatories to the cessation of hostilities agreement such as Kosti Manibe, Gen Thomas Cirilo and Lam Akol — said the detention of Dr Machar is a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms and would set a bad precedent in Africa.
“We call upon your office to ensure Dr Machar is immediately released in accordance with the letter and spirit of the cessation of hostilities agreement which guarantees the release of all political prisoners,” said the statement.
A group of peace activists calling themselves the Senior Youth of South Sudan, have also said the revitalisation programme will not succeed without Dr Machar and urged opposition leaders to boycott the second phase of the programme.