South Sudan’s vice president has officially withdrawn alongside his troops to outside of Juba but is not planning for war, his spokesman said on Wednesday, as a ceasefire that ended heavy fighting with the president’s forces entered its third day.
Forces loyal to longtime rivals Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir were brawling out in vicious street battles in the capital during a five-day period until a ceasefire was reached on Monday.
The events mirror those of December 2013, when a two-year civil war began after Machar, sacked from his post as Kiir’s deputy, withdrew his forces from Juba and launched a full-scale insurgency.
“We had to move away from our base (in Juba) to avoid further confrontation,” Machar’s spokesman James Gatdet Dak in Nairobi told Reuters, saying he was in contact with Machar’s forces. “He is around the capital. I cannot say the location.”
It was not clear what caused the latest rift between the two men who have long jostled for power, even before South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. The flare-up was apparently sparked on Thursday when Kiir’s forces stopped and demanded to search vehicles with Machar’s troops.
Gatdet Dak said Machar would stay away from Juba until ceasefire details were worked out.
“He is not returning to the bush, nor is he organising for war,” the spokesman said, calling for an outside force to be deployed to act as a “buffer” between Machar and Kiir’s forces.
Other demands from Machar’s side are to implement a joint command, an integrated armed force and a joint police force securing Juba, all issues laid out in a peace deal but not yet implemented, said Gatdet Dak.
“This is the time for diplomacy … in an attempt to return the government of national unity into its position,” said Ateny Wek Ateny, the spokesman for President Kiir, adding Kiir had held a cabinet meeting with some opposition members on Tuesday.