13 August 2014

South Sudan: Machar - 'I Don't Know When Peace Is Coming'

Photo: Jessica Hatcher/IRIN
Two women sit at the UNMISS base in Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan.

In an exclusive interview with DW, South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar talks about the prospects of peace in the country and his feelings about the proposed arms embargo.

DW: Dr Machar, how did the talks between you and the UN ambassadors go?

Riek Machar: Well I think the talks went well. I stated our position on the genesis of the war, the massacre that took place in Juba, on the firm basis that there was a coup. And I told them: nobody plotted a coup. But President Salva Kiir should be held responsible for what happened in Juba, where over 20,000 civilians were murdered and were targeted ethnically. As to the peace process, we have been engaged in the peace process since January 2nd of this year. On January 23, we signed two agreements. One on the cessation of hostilities and the other on the status of political detainees, who were released four months later.

Since May 9, President Salva Kiir and myself signed a road map agreement, a resolution of the crisis in South Sudan. Since then, our committees have been working and at times we were interrupted unnaturally by the mediators. And they are still talking.

However, I don't think peace will come at the time which was specified by IGAD. Because the IGAD said peace would be struck in 60 days. 60 days elapsed on August 10. And the substantive issues are now being discussed by the two parties and other stakeholders. So we don't know when the peace is going to come.

If peace does not come it should not mean that the leaders be sanctioned. That would be meaningless. We are engaged in the peace process. And in the peace process, it will take some time before an agreement is struck.

Don't you think that you as well as President Salva Kiir as leaders are the ones who really hold the key to peace in South Sudan? If you do not know when the peace is going to come that is very disappointing and frustrating for the people of South Sudan.

Peace talks are always difficult. We, on our side, are saying that the root causes of the conflict must be addressed. And in addressing the root causes of the conflict we should make reforms in the state. And for the reforms to be carried out it is necessary to agree on the system of governance that South Sudan should pursue. We are saying that federalism is a better form of governance. Therefore, once we agree on federalism, then we can carry out reforms in the army, in the security, in the judiciary, in the legal system and in the public service sector and the economy. Without these reforms it would not be possible to arrive at a meaningful peace.

And also we need a process of reconciliation and healing. This process of reconciliation and healing in the nation is a very difficult task, considering the fact that over 20,000 people have been killed. This process of killing was administered by the government. So things are difficult. It is not only that the leaders aren't doing their bit. I believe that from my side, I am doing my bit. Since May 8, I have been in Addis Ababa hoping to get a peaceful solution to the conflict.

DW has also heard from the government side. And they criticize you very strongly for attacking their positions, for not taking the political process to find peace in South Sudan seriously. You sound very committed to peace. On what points are you not in agreement with the government?

First of all we have not been attacking any positions. It's the government that has been on the offensive. Since we signed the cessation of hostilities on January 23, the government has not implemented its part of the agreement, the Ugandan troops are still in the country. The Sudanese rebels that are fighting alongside the government are still in the country. But the cessation of hostilities agreement stipulates that these forces - foreign forces - must leave South Sudan. They have not yet left. Therefore, the government is in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.

As I have told you, for peace to come we need to resolve the root causes of the conflict. And for that we have a road map, which is to agree on a system of governance. And this system is federalism. And once we agree on federalism, we can then carry out reforms in the country.

You talk about the root causes of the conflict. A lot of people say that the root causes of the conflict have to do with ethnicity. Is that also your position?

That is not necessarily the case, not only. It is one of the issues. The other issue is corruption. The other is the nature of the state itself. It is not a state that is committed to diversity. We are a diverse nation. We have to adopt a system that accommodates our diversity and which will also combat ethnicity being used in politics. It will also combat corruption and it will also be a system that will make our people go forward economically.

The UN ambassadors have accused both sides, your side as well as the government side, of rearming yourselves in preparation for war in the coming dry season. Can you confirm or deny these allegations?

We get our arms from the government when we defeat them on the battlefield. During December and January we captured thousands of rifles and machine guns and even cannons - about 7 cannons. And then fighting on Malakal, we captured over eleven tanks and thousands of rifles. The unit has stayed the same, with over 40 tanks.

So our armament is from the government. But we know that the government is arming itself. They have bought arms and ammunition from the Chinese. And yesterday in my discussion with the ambassador of the UN Security Council I mentioned that China should refrain from selling arms to South Sudan through its arms manufacturer Marinko. I have even written to the President of China Xi Jinping to stop any sale of arms to South Sudan so that the war is not fueled. They should support peace by not supporting the armament of the government of South Sudan.

Human Right Watch has already called for an arms embargo on South Sudan. Do you support this cause.

That would be a good thing for example if the UN could start this arms embargo. They have the arms embargo which makes it possible for the government not to buy arms from anywhere. That would be good.

Rebel leader Riek Machar is a former vice president of South Sudan. His supporters have been fighting troops loyal to his long-time rival President Salva Kiir since mid-December 2013.

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