(JUBA) – South Sudanese government claimed on Saturday that reports of infighting within the ranks and files of the armed opposition leadership allied to the former vice president, Riek Machar, may not permit the conduct of consultative conference over recent peace proposal by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), scheduled to take place in Pagak. The area is a rebel held territory inside South Sudan at the border with neighbouring Ethiopia.
The office of South Sudan’s foreign ministry alleged there are serious differences in the rebel faction’s leadership over the IGAD-Plus proposal.
“For us as the government, we started our consultations with all the stakeholders and at the level of the senior leadership. We have conducted leadership consultation as a party and as a government and we formed three thematic committees to study the IGAD proposal. The committees concluded the studies and submitted findings and recommendations to the leadership for more discussions before coming out with one position to make an official response to the proposal,” said deputy minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Peter Bashir Gbandi.
Minister Gbandi, who was assigned a ceasefire and security arrangement committee to study the IGAD peace proposal, told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that the government was getting reports of infighting within the leadership of the armed opposition and could delay their consultations if they planned to do it inside the country.
“The reports we are getting at the moment indicate the existence of sharp differences. According to what we hear, there are those who are opposed to some provisions in the proposal and there are those who are happy with it,” he alleged.
On the ground, the rebel military commanders, he said, were also divided over the recent reshuffle in the opposition’s military leadership.
“We hear that there are [those] who are not happy with the replacement of Peter Gadet and Gathoth Gatkuoth from their positions and their alleged subsequent denial to returning to their areas. If these reports are correct, I think it may delay their consultations if they plan to do it, where they did their consultations last time,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gordon Buay, one of president Kiir government’s representatives to its mission in the United States of America, told Sudan Tribune on Friday, that he was not sure whether the armed opposition leadership would be able to hold its consultative conference in Pagak.
“For us as the government, we are already doing our consultations. The president and the SPLM leadership have held the consultative meeting this week and the three committees were formed to study the documents and report back their findings and recommendations to the leadership. So we are already doing our consultations but I am afraid whether the rebels would hold their consultations in Pagak because those of Peter Gadet and Gathoth Gatkuoth have already dissatisfied with the leadership of Riek Machar and they no longer see him as their leader,” he said.
Buay, who once was strong critic of president Kiir and called for his removal in 2011, also alleged that the replaced rebel commanders were blocked from entering Pagak from Gambella region across the Ethiopian border.
He claimed that the relieved rebel commanders had already formed their own organization against the opposition faction to deal with the government, saying it was not however worth it to negotiate with different groups.
“They are already a group of their own and that was why they were blocked from returning to Pagak from Gambela. Now I hear that Peter Gadet is in Khartoum. So how [do] you negotiate with the divided group?” Buay further claimed during an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune on Friday.
REBELS DISMISS CLAIMS
The armed opposition faction of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) led by the former vice president, Riek Machar, dismissed the claims of government officials, saying this was a “wishful thinking.”
“These are prophets of doom. They are anti-peace elements with wishful thinking,” said James Gatdet Dak, press secretary for the opposition leadership.
“Our leadership has already converged in Pagak for the consultations,” he told Sudan Tribune on Saturday in response to the government’s allegations.
Dak said there was no infighting as alleged, but added that even if there were to be different opinions about the IGAD peace proposal, this would be a healthy democratic and collective exercise at the end of which there would be a consensus on one position.
He rebuked the government’s claims saying they should mind their own business, saying Juba is more divided over proposal.
“They should mind their own business. The regime is the one divided, speaking in different tongues at different times. You have the president saying one thing today and another thing tomorrow. The army says another thing, and the Jieng Council of Elders also saying different things. So the regime is against the IGAD peace proposal,” he said.
The rebel leader’s spokesperson also said the relieved commanders, Peter Gatdet and Gathoth Gatkuoth would be reassigned to other positions in the movement, refuting allegations that they were dismissed from the movement.
The warring parties were given until 5 August to consult with their respective constituencies on the peace proposal, with 17 August given as deadline for signing of a final peace agreement.