Kampala — The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) executive secretary, Mr Mahboub Maalim, has said Dr Riek Machar, the de facto South Sudan opposition leader, and first vice president "will return to Juba sooner than expected after conclusion of some technical issues related to the peace process".
One of the sticking issues, Mr Maalim told Daily Monitor, is finalisation of a report by a technical team looking at the gerrymandering of states which has a bearing on the proposed democratic elections for South Sudanese to determine their government.
"A technical team was set up, but it did not include South Sudanese. It only had members from Igad countries and the international community, so that had to be reworked," Mr Maalim said.
He said once the report by the team led by South Africa has been considered, "the rest of the issues will be easy to work out." Igad is a seven-member regional bloc comprising Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya, and has been overseeing the peace process since fighting first broke out in December 2013.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir in 2016 decreed increasing the number of states from 10 to 38, which the opposition has opposed saying it alters the political balance. It is one of the most divisive issues between government and rebels/SPLA-IO.
"It is not because he (Machar) did not want but there was a lot preparatory activities required."
Mr Maalim, however, did not commit himself on a definitive date when Dr Machar is expected to return to take up his previous position as vice president under the terms of a peace plan signed last September. Some sources say he is set to return in May.
The peace plan brokered by Presidents Museveni and his embattled Sudanese counterpart Omar-al Bashir reinstated President Salva Kiir as head of state and Dr Machar as first vice president, a position he previously held prior to the fallout in July 2016 which triggered fresh fighting.
Under a previous deal which ended the fighting that first broke out in December 2013, Dr Machar returned from exile with a group of bodyguards who reportedly clashed with government forces in 2016.
Since back-to-back peace agreements signed in August and September last year, the international community has tried to re-unite President Salva Kiir and Dr Machar in a joint administration but owing to a number of unresolved issues, it all remains to be seen if the duo can work together again.
Mr Maalim during an interview on Tuesday said there is "unwavering commitment" by all parties to commit to the terms of last year's peace agreements.
"I get the impression it is holding now, however, it has taken a long time. What is clear though is that the people are psyched for peace," Ambassador Maalim added. "This time round there's more inclusivity and harmony in the peace process unlike before, and that gives us confidence."