Former president Thabo Mbeki said South Sudan urgently needed to resolve issues standing in the way of the country moving towards national reconciliation.
Mbeki, who was the African Union’s chief mediator in the conflict in Sudan that led to the creation of South Sudan in 2011, said he had not been dealing with that country with regards to ending the hostilities that broke out in 2013, but he still kept in touch.
Lately various issues had stood in the way of vice president-designate Riek Machar’s return to the capital city Juba, including disputes over the number of troops and weapons he was allowed to bring with him.
“What we hope is that in the end all these matters that serve as obstacles to Riek Machar’s return would be resolved,” Mbeki said.
“There is an urgent need to implement the agreement which they all signed, to bring peace to the country and address very, very serious problems of national reconciliation. But hopefully, hopefully,” he said.
Machar left the country in December 2013 when he was sacked after falling out with South Sudanese president Salva Kiir, and the country descended into civil war, which claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than two million people.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the SPLM-in-Opposition signed a deal by which they would share cabinet posts and work towards national reconciliation.
Mbeki said the East African region, through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), was tasked to deal with the peace talks, “but naturally we are in touch with them regularly, as we are in touch regularly with the chair of the joint monitoring commission (former) president Festus Mogae of Botswana”.
The joint monitoring commission is tasked with overseeing the implementation of last year’s peace deal.
“You know, the dates for the return of Riek Machar to Juba were suggested, were offered by Riek Machar (himself), to say ‘I will be back in Juba on the 1st of March if the following things are in place.
“What had delayed him before is that there was an agreement that there should be 1 370 men and women who would come from the SPLM-in-Opposition, who would come to Juba both as soldiers and police officers, so they become part of protection units around Machar.
“It took time, they are all there now.
Another problem that arose which was because Juba the capital city is, according to the agreement, supposed to be demilitarised, so a dispute had arose as to whether this soldier can carry a pistol or not in this demilitarised city.”
He said once there was an agreement about carrying a pistol, the next question was whether 10 soldiers could carry bazookas, or rocket propel launchers, but this could constitute weapons in a demilitarised city.
“So they had a long discussion about this and in the end they agreed no, you can take a limited number of bazookas. So regularly issues arise,” he said.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has also paid regular visits to Juba to help mend the disputes within the SPLM, and in January officially announced that the conflict between the SPLM and the SPLM-in-Opposition had come to an end.