December 2, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO), led by the first vice-president designate, Riek Machar, has slammed president Salva Kiir’s government for coming up with a new demand which sought biographies for each and every individual of the over 550 SPLM-IO members of the advance team to Juba before the government could approve their return.
Media comments coming from the office of president Kiir had put forth a new demand suggesting that although the government received the list of 560 members of the SPLM-IO’s advance team expected in Juba in days, there was still need for the opposition leadership to provide detailed particulars or biographies of each member of the team.
A presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told the UN-run Radio Miraya on Wednesday that the reason behind the new demand was for the government to know who is who in the team of the opposition membership and for “security reasons”, adding that the biographies should include details of what each individual used to do before joining the SPLM-IO in the war.
He added that the government will then have to decide who it should allow to enter Juba or not.
“The advance team of the SPLM-IO did not come today [Wednesday] because two major issues are delaying their coming. One issue is that they have not provided particulars of individual members of the advance team. The list which they have sent is incomplete. It is only names but it does not say what these people do,” said Ateny.
“The other issue is connected to logistics. The United Nations has accepted to provide transport for 50 members but the list we have received is for 560 members. This issue is not a problem. It can be settled. The government can negotiate with the UN if they provide clear information as required,” he added.
Information and broadcasting minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, however in a slight contradiction confirmed in a separate interview that the government had asked the armed opposition to send a more detailed list of the advance team.
“We are still waiting for them. The list they have sent was incomplete. So we asked them to send us the complete list. We asked them to send us a list written in alphabetical order without title, without status, without seniority, without rank,” said Lueth, contradicting remarks of the presidential spokesman, who demanded biographies.
While the information minister focused on the required alphabetical order of the list, the presidential spokesman said the demand was about their biographies.
But an official of the opposition faction lashed out at the new demand, saying this was unlawful and another delaying tactic indicating that the government was not serious to implement the peace agreement.
“Where is the law which says a South Sudanese returning to the capital, Juba, must have his or her biography checked first? This is unlawful and irrational demand which only indicates that the regime is reluctant to implement the peace agreement,” responded James Gatdet Dak, the official spokesperson of the leadership of the armed opposition faction.
“Our membership is none of their business,” he told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
The new demand, he said, was an unnecessary delaying tactic by the government which seemed not to be comfortable with the return of the opposition cadres to the national capital and to the other state capitals.
“Or should I say this may bring suspicion about the intention of the government to prioritize knowing the biographies of our political cadres,” he added.
Dak challenged that nobody asked permission from the government to join the armed struggle and therefore did not need permission from the government to return to the capital in the implementation of the peace agreement.
The membership of the SPLM-IO cadres, he further explained, are a combination of those who fled from Juba and other state capitals and towns as well as those who joined from the diaspora in the neighbouring countries and mainly from the western world.
The opposition leader’s spokesman further argued that what the government should have done was to receive the list containing the names of the members in the team and make the necessary arrangements for their reception.
He reminded that the opposition’s membership is not 550 only, saying tens of thousands more who wish to return to Juba in the near future will do so.
Earlier, government’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, said they were waiting for the list of the advance team so that they could make necessary preparations for their reception including accommodation, but did not put forth the demand for their biographies.
Dak said the new demand would “unnecessarily” make further delays for the travel of the advance team and should therefore be removed, adding that the list of the advance team was already availed to the government.
OTHER CAUSES FOR DELAY
Dak further told Sudan Tribune that other causes for the delay of the advance team is the logistical arrangements being made by the United Nations and donors in coordination with IGAD, including the provision of transportation of the team from Pagak, the SPLM-IO general headquarters, to Juba.
He also said some of the members of the team from inside the country had no travel documents or passports and the travel documents or Ethiopian visas had to be provided first before they could fly to Juba.
He could not confirm the date for the flight to Juba of the advance team, saying it would depend on how fast the arrangements can be completed “this week.”
The over 550 members, who will include political leaders of the opposition group, will be led by the chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, and some other senior colleagues who are members to bodies provided for in the peace agreement.
Their protection while in Juba and other state capitals, Dak added, would be provided by the United Nations.
The team will kick off the implementation of the peace deal which ends the 21 months of violent conflict, mobilize populations in support of its full implementation as well as organize for the reception of their top leader, Machar, to form a government of national unity with president Kiir by January 2016.
The purpose of seeking particulars and provision of list in an orderly manner of the members of the advance team of the armed opposition faction has remained a subject of speculations.
Observers and peace advocates have pointed out that the government was engaged in delaying tactic of the visit of the opposition at the expense of peace and return of stability in the country because those in the government allegedly feel they would be affected by the changes when the transitional government of national unity is formed.
This is the fourth delay of the visit of the advance team, despite mounting pressure on the two main warring parties from within and outside the country.
The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) and members of the international community urged the two sides to scale up the processes and avoid unnecessary delays in implementing the deal and embark on the formation of transitional government as it was agreed in the regional brokered peace agreement.
Other sources speculated unconfirmed concerns that the government was divided over how to handle the country’s affairs in the face of the peace agreement, with some getting worried that the return of the opposition members with their reform agenda may infiltrate the pro-government’s internal front and further divide them.
Majority of members of parliament from greater Equatoria and Upper Nile regions walked out of the national parliament last week in bitter protest against constitutional amendments which paved the way for creation of 28 states by the president, saying it was violating the peace agreement.