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After a series of missed deadlines, controversies over new schedules and a delay to form a transitional government of national unity, guarantors to the peace agreement are yet to come to terms with the time lag of Dr Riek to come to Juba.
The TGoNU both sides are being pushed to form is already far behind schedule, having not been constituted after a pre-transitional period of 90 days that ended in November.
The TGoNU by this time would have reviewed the legislation and restructured the Bank of South Sudan, and appointed a governor and board members.
The parties would have been reviewing the anti-corruption commission act to harmonize its role with the Ministry of Justice and the Police and transforming the Constituency Development Fund that is meant to devolve power and resources to the grassroots.
But with the delay, the United States and the United Kingdom, which have invested heavily in the peace process, became increasingly frustrated with and disappointed in Dr Riek and the government.
Dr Machar’s failure to jet in last week from his headquarters in Pagak, through Gambella, to Juba, was initially blamed on logistics.
But his Chief of Staff, General Gatwech Dual, who is under sanctions by the United Nations, swung into the fray. It was his security clearance first, then came in the number of soldiers to accompany him, and finally the number of weapons.
Members of the international community didn’t believe the reasons for the delay and said Dr Riek was obstructing the peace process.
“His (Riek) failure to go to Juba despite efforts from the international community places the people of South Sudan at risk of further conflict and suffering, and undermines the peace agreement’s reform pillars, which are demilitarizing South Sudan, injecting transparency of public finances, and pursuing justice and reconciliation, all of which offer South Sudan a chance for renewal,” Mr John Kirby told a press briefing in Washington, DC.
“This represents a willful decision by him not to abide by his own commitments to implement the agreement on the resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,” he added.
Subsequently, both sides negotiated and agreed Gen Gatwech would come to Juba with 195-strong force armed with 20 PKMs and 20 RPGs, in addition to their personal weapons.
The deadline of Saturday that was set by the partners felt through, and so did Monday, which Dr Riek himself had said would be a comfortable return date to give him some time to clear with the government authorities.
According to the UK and the US, the government did not cooperate.
“The government denied landing permission to flights for the return of opposition leader Riek Machar,” the US department of state said in a statement.
“This interference resulted in the failure to meet the deadline in the compromise proposal put forward by the regional and international partners of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission that was agreed to by both sides,” the statement read in part.
“We’ve previously condemned obstruction by the IO, including the arbitrary demand by Riek Machar that more forces and heavy weapons than was previously agreed precede his arrival to Juba,” it added.
Instead, General Gatwech arrived on Monday.
The two guarantors said they were withdrawing from funding the return of Dr Riek, blaming both the government and the opposition for blocking progress.
“We have been working intensively with our partners, especially Ethiopia, to facilitate Riek Machar’s return,” the Department of State and the UK embassy said in separate statements.
“Given the actions by both sides to prevent or delay his return, it is now time for the parties to assume primary responsibility for facilitating the return of Riek Machar to Juba to form the TGNU and to demonstrate that they are genuinely committed to peace,” they said.
The United Kingdom said it stood ready to support the Transitional Government once it is formed, while the US said it would work with those who are “sincerely committed to implementing the agreement, particularly its provisions for reform of the security sector and public finances and for reconciliation and accountability”.
They warned that “the engagement in helping South Sudan confront the country’s security, economic and development challenges, however, will depend on the parties demonstrating commitment to work together to implement the agreement”.
In response, the SPLM in Opposition blamed the guarantors and donors for the delay of Dr Riek to show up in Juba on Monday.
“We were stuck. But the Americans themselves who were chattering and sponsoring his arrival declined to continue with their mandate,” said William Ezekiel, the spokesman for the advance team in Juba.
“On our side, everybody knows, first vice president-designate even arrived in Gambella on Saturday. But there was failure to get the clearance on due time,” he told Eye Radio.
For its part, the government feigned lack of information about growing frustration over the delay for Dr Riek to come to Juba for the formation of the transitional government of national unity.
“That information is not officially communicated to the government up to this moment,” said Michael Makuei Lueth, the Minister of Information.
“So there is no way we can respond to whatever until we are officially notified. And there is no way we would just act on verbal information in the media,” he told Eye Radio.
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