Voice of America (Washington, DC)

6 February 2014

South Sudan: Machar Aims to 'Liberate Nation From Dictatorship'

Former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar says his newly created SPLM/SPLA resistance movement will work to move the young country from the path toward dictatorship that President Salva Kiir has set it on, onto one leading to democracy and equality.

"South Sudan needs to be liberated from the current dictatorship being established by Salva Kiir," Machar told VOA in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location.

The new movement he has set up would "dedicate our time to the liberation of South Sudan so that we have a democratic, peaceful, prosperous natIon where elections would not be rigged, where people would not be intimidated, where there would be no one group trying to control others," he said.

Riek Machar on his new resistance movement

Machar last year accused Kiir of having "dictatorial tendencies" after the vice president and the rest of the presidential cabinet were fired in July.

The former vice president has been in hiding since mid-December when South Sudan plunged into violence that Kiir said was triggered by a failed coup led by Machar.

Machar has denied having anything to do with a coup bid. He and others in the ruling SPLM party have said they were pressing for democratic reform in the SPLM and for economic benefits to be shared more equitably among South Sudanese but were shut out by Kiir.

The SPLM is currently the only viable party in South Sudan. While many other parties exist, most have tiny membership numbers.

Machar said creating a multi-party system would be a key step towards installing a democratic system of government in South Sudan.

"I want the international community and the people of the region and our own country to understand that for this country to be viable it must be committed to democratic multipartism, it must be a country where good governance prevails, a country where there is tolerance," Machar said.

"It must be a country where everyone has a share of the cake, where one ethnic group does not try to impose its will on others," Machar said.

Riek Machar on his vision for South Sudan

Thousands of people died and nearly one million have fled their homes during the weeks of fighting that took on ethnic overtones as it pitted backers of Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, against loyalists to Machar, a Nuer.

At a meeting this week of the SPLM, Machar's replacement, Vice President James Wani Igga, denied that the violence was ethnically based, and called on the nearly one million South Sudanese who have fled their homes to return.

"If there are comrades who might have gone to hide because they happen to come... from the Nuer community... let them come back because the situation is normal. You can play your role in nation building," Igga told the gathering of around 400 SPLM members.

Machar insisted that his resistance movment wants to use peaceful means, including the ballot box, to oust Kiir, but has been forced to take up arms to fend off attacks by government forces that the opposition says have continued even after the two sides signed a ceasefire last month.

Riek Machar on peaceful vs. armed resistance

Peace talks for South Sudan are set to resume Monday. At the first round of the talks, held in Addis Ababa last month, the two sides signed a cessation of hostilities agreement and agreed to expedite the release of 11 SPLM members who were detained by the government when the unrest first broke out in mid-December.

Seven of the 11 have been released to the custody of the authorities in Kenya, but Kiir said this week the other four -- whom the government accuses of playing a role in planning the alleged coup that kicked off the weeks of bloodletting in South Sudan -- must go through the full legal process before they can be freed.

Since the cessation of hostilities pact was signed on Jan. 23, violence has continued around the country, with the two sides swapping accusations over who is responsible.

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