South Sudan’s government and rebels on Wednesday accused each other of hindering rebel leader Riek Machar’s return to the capital to form a unity government, with monitors of a peace deal warning the delay was putting the agreement at risk.
Machar was due to come back to Juba on April 18, but officials said on April 19 his arrival had been postponed indefinitely for “logistical” reasons.
Machar and his rival President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement in August aimed at ending a two-year conflict in which thousands were killed and 2 million forced to flee their homes. But implementation has not been smooth.
A government official said Machar was held up because he had wanted to bring equipment and troops into Juba in excess of what was agreed with Kiir’s camp. Machar told Al Jazeera television that the government was creating “obstacles” to his return.
The United States and the U.N. Security Council have both voiced concern over this latest setback. The body monitoring the peace deal, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) also said it was worried.
“The agreement is at risk,” said Festus Mogae, JMEC chairman.
“Having come so close to the formation of the transitional government of national unity, all parties must ensure that the spirit of reconciliation, compromise and dialogue embodied by the agreement should be protected,” he said in a statement.
Under the power sharing deal, Machar will return to Juba and immediately be sworn in as first vice president.
Kiir’s decision to sack Machar as his deputy in 2013 had precipitated the crisis that led to conflict later that year.
Fighting has often run along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir’s dominant Dinka ethnic group against Machar’s Nuer. Despite the peace deal, there have been sporadic clashes for which each side has blamed the other.
JMEC includes members of the South Sudanese government, the opposition, as well as representatives from the African Union, United Nations, the United States, China and European nations.
The conflict, which erupted barely two years after South Sudan’s independence in 2011, has hammered the economy and left swathes of the 11 million population without enough food.
Oil production, South Sudan’s main source of revenue, has tumbled as oil fields have been cut off and global prices have dropped.
The JMEC statement said Mogae expressed disappointment at Machar’s failure to fly to Juba – from Pagak near the Ethiopian border – despite a chartered flight arranged for Monday and Tuesday. He said he hoped it could be rescheduled “within days.”
JMEC said would meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.