Juba — South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has set the conditions for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the country, saying the latter will only leave if a permanent peace agreement is attained.
President Kiir made the remarks on Wednesday at an occasion marking the third anniversary of the country's independence from neighbouring Sudan, from which it seceded on 9 July 2011.
Kiir said the Ugandan troops had been deployed via a "sovereign agreement" and would remain in the country until their mission was achieved.
The comments have raised concerns about the commitment of the Kiir-led administration to respect a peace deal he signed last June with former vice-president-turned rebel leader Riek Machar.
"We are committed to bringing peace as the government. We are committed to negotiating a peaceful settlement to end this conflict. We are not sparing any resources and time," Kiir told a small crowd, mostly comprising of members of his cabinet and business associates.
The Independence Day function was poorly attended, unlike celebrations in previous years, which saw several heads of state and government representatives in attendance.
This year, Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was the only the foreign head of state to attend, with the leaders of Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Djibouti all absent.
The reason for the poor international showing remains unclear, with officials from the organising committee and the office of the president saying invitations were sent out in time.
"We have sent out all the invitations to all the expected guests in advance and we did not receive any notification indicating other commitments of the people who were invited," Abdon Agau, the government's secretary-general, told reporters at the conclusion of the function, adding that the event had nonetheless gone well.
"Our people came and they heard the messages of peace and unity from the president of Uganda and our own president," said Agau.
Kiir himself also questioned why the leaders of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating the peace process between the two rival parties, and former political detainees did not attend Independence Day celebrations.
"I don't know why Pagan Amum and Deng Alor did not come. They said when they met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month, that they would come to attend [the] independence celebration," he said.
He said he would have asked the leaders of the intergovernmental authority on development (IGAD) how long government troops would continue to remain in their trenches when they have continued to face offensive from the rebel groups he accused to have violated the peace deal.
"I would have the IGAD leaders if they had come how long our forces would continue to remain in trenches in the light of these violations by the forces loyal to Riek and his group," he asked.
Members of the general during interviews with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday expressed dissatisfactions with the performance of the government and the governing leadership
"The attendance itself explains the dissatisfactions with our people. I did not bother to go myself because I was not expecting any new statement from the same leaders today. They were going to repeat the same things we have heard time and again, claims of liberation struggle and claims we have done this and that even though they lack trace, Deng Mathuc, a native of Warrap, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
Mathuc said citizens thought independence would come with a lot of changes in form of development activities, more employment opportunities, building roads and schools.
"The expectations our people had in minds have dashed. They thought that a lot of changes would come. The young people like me were expected more things in form of employment opportunities and the people in rural areas were expecting more development activities like the construction of roads, building more schools, funding agricultural projects," he said.
"They thought that if we get this country, then everyone will enjoy life. But as you know, these hopes have been dashed and the life has been made difficult. So people feel unhappy and this is why many are not celebrating. You can see how many people are here and the celebration is continuing," he added.
The auxiliary Roman Catholic Bishop of Juba diocese, Santo Laku, said he was not whether they leaders were serious with their messages about peace, pointing out that leaders appear more interested in preaching peace to buy time than showing leadership to end the conflict.
"Well, it is always to give fitting comments and say what you have seen. I say this country needs peace urgently and it must be brought so that this suffering is brought to an end," said Laku.
The religious leader described the political leadership of the country as "fractured", pointing out that the division within the governing leadership of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) had left their followers and supporters alike wandering between who should be followed.
"Our political leader at this particular moment is fractured. People do not know who to follow," he said.
"As we talk, the agenda of peace is not very clear. As we talk peace, there are people mobilising for war, which sends out another different messages to the people being affected by these activities and leave them confused of the current peace talks," he added.
The influential Bishop, who was speaking to the faithful at the church, said the country was too young to be disunited, saying it was time to come together to call for peace," added the young influential Bishop while speaking to the faithful at the church.
POLICY OF APPEASEMENT
Former Sudanese oil minister Lual Acuek Deng, now managing director of a Juba based local think tank, says that a policy of "buying peace" with a huge army and government explains why the economy of the oil producing nation has fallen into "intensive care" and sent fighters tired of waiting for services back to the bush.
Meanwhile, a release by the former political detainees extended to Sudan Tribune said the country was celebrating the third anniversary under circumstances warranting no jubilations.
"We mark this third anniversary of our independence not under circumstances of jubilation nor with the sense of pride and achievement, but in pain and sense of shame. Not only have the leadership failed our country and betrayed the ultimate and selfless sacrifice of our martyrs, but also failed our friends in the region and around the world", a statement bearing the name of former justice minister John Luk Jok read in part.
Jok, whom many people believe contributed to the fomenting of the crisis, due to his chairing of a constitutional review committee which drafted the interim constitution that broadened president Kiir's powers, said the occasion should be used for reflection on current events in the country, rather than spreading hateful messages.
"This independence anniversary should be a day for all to reflect on the sad and troubling events unfolding in our country; [it's] not a day for revelry," he said.