Former first vice-president of South Sudan, Riek Machar has arrived in the capital Juba after fleeing two years ago, multiple media outlets have reported.
Machar who leads the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement In Opposition, SPLM-IO, is expected to join in peace celebrations later today.
Along with president Salva Kiir, and other leaders from across the region, Machar will join the celebrations that are premised on a peace deal signed in September under the aegis of the regional bloc, IGAD and other international stakeholders.
We are worried for his security in Juba, but the truth is here: we are for peace, and what we are trying to do is build trust.
Machar’s spokesperson, Lam Paul Gabriel confirmed that the former vice-president will return to Juba for the first time since he fled two years ago under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace deal collapsed.
“Machar will lead a delegation of the SPLM/A-IO members for the peace celebration in Juba but the programme in Juba is entirely in the hands of the regime,” said SPLM-IO rebel group spokesman Gabriel.
Some regional heads of state are also expected at the ceremony to publicly welcome the most recent peace agreement, signed in September.
Political escort rather than security detail
Machar’s previous homecoming, in April 2016, was put off by wrangling over how many bodyguards he could bring with him and what weapons they would carry, but Gabriel said this time Machar would be accompanied by only around 30 political figures.
“We are worried for his security in Juba, but the truth is here: we are for peace, and what we are trying to do is build trust. So that is why he is able to leave his forces behind and just go with politicians,” Gabriel said.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar — then his deputy, of plotting a coup.
The conflict has split the country along ethnic lines and seen mass rape, the forced recruitment of child soldiers and attacks on civilians. It has caused one of the world’s deepest humanitarian crises.
Several ceasefires and peace agreements have so far failed to end the fighting that has killed an estimated 380,000 people, uprooted a third of the population, forced nearly two-and-a-half million into exile as refugees and triggered bouts of deadly famine.