Addis Ababa — South Sudanese armed opposition leader Riek Machar has said he would only accept a transitional government that comes with a workable programme to be agreed upon by the parties to the conflict and implemented before next elections.
In an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune in undisclosed location in Upper Nile state, Machar, the former vice-president turned rebel leader, revealed on Saturday he had a lengthy phone discussions with the visiting US secretary of state, John Kerry, on how to end the 4-month old conflict in South Sudan.
Kerry met with President Salva Kiir in Juba on Friday during which they discussed the importance of forming a power-sharing transitional government with Machar.
However, the rebel leader, who had been Kiir's deputy president for eight years, said a power-sharing transitional government without a programme would be meaningless.
"I asked him [Kerry] what would be the purpose of transitional government? It would not be workable without a programme to implement before elections come," Machar told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
"We need to have a peace agreement first with a new constitution. Putting transitional government first is not realistic," he further argued.
Machar who lost his job in June last year for criticising Kiir's leadership style while in office as the deputy-president on many occasions said the differences between him and the president had never been personal or power struggle between the two leaders.
The matter, he explained, had been about the future governance of South Sudan as a state, hence the need to restructure the state on the basis of a peace agreement and federal constitution.
He recalled that he was pushing for a democratic peaceful reform first within the ruling party (SPLM) until he was forced to flee for his life and formed an armed resistance.
President Kiir, he added, had lost legitimacy for orchestrating the "genocide" in Juba against the Nuer ethnic group in mid-December last year, saying people should not only speak about the killings in Bor or Bentiu while downplaying the genocide which took place in the national capital.
MACHAR AGAINST SEPARATE REGIONAL FORCE DEPLOYMENT
The rebel leader also said he had reiterated to the American secretary of state his rejection to the proposed deployment to South Sudan of IGAD regional deterrent force.
"I would agree to deployment of a "protection force" from the region as part of the current peacekeepers under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), but not as a separate "deterrent force" that will fight against us like the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF)," he stressed.
He further accused the government and such foreign forces including Sudanese rebels of allegedly violating the cessation of hostilities agreement.
FACE-TO-FACE TALKS WITH SALVA KIIR PREMATURE
Machar also argued that there was no point of him meeting president Salva Kiir face-to-face at this juncture of the negotiations between the two rival delegations, saying this "may be counter-productive."
He however added he had a plan to meet with the Ethiopian prime minister Haile Mariam Desalegn any time soon and that the Ethiopian premier would inform him when to meet for consultations.
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power on Friday said the two South Sudanese leader must meet to reach an agreement to stop the suffering of South Sudanese emphasising "we urge president Kiir and Riek Machar to swiftly agree on a date for face to face talks".
The opposition leader further accused Salva Kiir's government of only releasing 7 politicians on "bail" and keeping the other 4 recently released by court under "house arrest" in Juba despite agreements between the two parties to free them.
He also accused the government of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement by not withdrawing the Ugandan forces as well as Sudanese rebels who fight alongside the "regime" in Juba.
"The government also denies humanitarian access to the areas under our control," he further said, accusing Juba of launching further offensives against the rebels positions despite resumption of the peace talks in Addis Ababa.
MACHAR NOT RELOCATED TO ETHIOPIAN BORDER
The South Sudanese rebels also denied on Friday reports claiming that Machar had relocated to the Ethiopian border, allegedly due to fear of insecurity.
"Who said that? Dr. Riek Machar has not relocated anywhere. He is inside South Sudan, Hussein Maar Nyuot," spokesperson for the rebels delegation at the peace talks told Sudan Tribune on Friday in a separate interview.
The rebel official was reacting to reports which appeared on social media and forums claiming that the opposition leader was forced to relocate to Burebiey village on the Ethiopian side of the border, allegedly due to fear of insecurity following claims that some armed Nuer youth in Nasir town declared allegiance to Upper Nile state governor, Simon Kun Puoch.
Unconfirmed reports also on the social media and forums claimed, Ulang County, one of the rebel held strongholds in Upper Nile state was captured by the SPLA forces after the local chief identified as Tut Thon, declared allegiance to governor Puoch.
However, Machar's spokesperson James Gatdet Dak has confirmed to Sudan Tribune that government forces did actually overrun Ulang and set it ablaze.
Dak added that government troops were however repulsed on Saturday by the White Army that reinforced the area from Nasir.