South Sudanese former vice president Riek Machar has snubbed attempts by President Yoweri Museveni to talk with him over the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.
President Museveni’s invitation follows consistent pressure from John Garang’s widow Rebecca Nyandeng, who sources say has met and held talks with the President nine times in the past five months.
According to sources, who describe the differences between Dr Machar and President Salva Kiir as personal, Dr Machar insists he would only speak to President Museveni after Uganda withdraws its troops, a stand which has effectively blocked the initiative.
“The first effort from President Museveni to reach out to Dr Machar was immediately after the Addis Ababa talks where he signed a ceasefire agreement with President Salva Kiir,” said security sources involved in the efforts.
Besides heeding Mrs Garang’s request, security players say Uganda’s decision to reach out to Dr Machar, could have been informed by a desire to explore other options for ending the conflict and growing international pressure on Uganda to stop combat operations against the rebels.
“The phobia Uganda has of Dr Machar since the 1991 incident (when he defected from the mainstream SPLA to join Khartoum) is still strong but maybe Uganda has realised they cannot easily do away with him or they want to engage him and gauge his strength by holding talks with him. Also the war is not ending,” a source said.
However, a constructive engagement appears obscured by the mutual mistrust between the two. In several of his tweets since the war started, Dr Machar accuses President Museveni of using the war to fulfil his “personal interest.”
“We don’t have problem with Uganda as a country but we’ve a problem with its leader who uses innocent soldiers for his personal interests,” Dr Machar tweeted at one time.
He says his team is committed to the ceasefire but “… only when UPDF mercenaries leave South Sudan.”
Dr Machar has accused Uganda of staging air strikes against his supporters.
The demand by Machar that Uganda withdraws from South Sudan analysts say, is also informed by the belief that they represent the only obstacle between him and Juba. The UPDF is now stationed in the town of Bor along the transit to Juba.
“Dr Machar strongly believes that the arrogance of President Kiir is because Uganda is bolstering his position in Juba,” said security analysts David Pulkol.
While President Kiir claims the violation of the ceasefire deal singed on May 9 was because Dr Machar is not in charge of the rebel forces as he claims, the former vice president said this week that President Kiir was not in charge of forces fighting on his side such as the UPDF and could therefore not get them to implement the ceasefire.
The rebels accuse Uganda of meddling in “an internal conflict for good governance” and say Uganda’s military presence in the country was an obstacle to the IGAD brokered peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Uganda, however, says it is willing to withdraw as long as the proposed regional force is ready to take over its positions.