July 20, 2016 (JUBA) – A senior official of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) led by the First Vice President, Riek Machar, said he has not been in contact with their leader for at least five days.
Interior minister, Alfred Lado Gore, who is also the deputy chairman for the SPLM-IO, revealed on Tuesday that he never spoke directly to Machar since last week, adding that Machar however spoke to other officials who had to pass messages to him.
“I spoke with Riek last Thursday but since Friday I lost contact, I don’t know where he is, we are talking to other people who may be in contact with him,” said Gore, speaking to the state-owned TV, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC), following a meeting with President Salva Kiir in Juba on Tuesday.
It was not clear why the communication was limited between the two top leaders, whether it was for security reasons in fear of being possibly listened to by security personnel.
Machar fled the capital, Juba, last week after government troops overran his base following four days of intensive fighting. He said President Kiir cannot be trusted and demanded a third foreign force in Juba to act as buffer between the rival troops of the SPLA loyal to President Kiir and his SPLA-IO.
President Kiir has repeated said that he will protect Machar, but the latter said he could not trust the former.
Machar’s forces, only 1,300 in number with light weapons, were dislodged and had to be dislodged from their Jebel Kujur base, a western suburb of Juba, after being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of President Kiir’s troops who took part in the four days of fighting. His officials said they are around Juba.
When Gore was asked by a reporter on Tuesday to explain why his boss has never heeded calls by President Kiir to return to Juba, Gore said Machar required a third force for his safety in Juba.
“The main issue facing him is third party security,” he said, adding that “the president has no problem at all. President has agreed to implementation of peace process.”
In what appears to be a rift within the SPLM-IO, Gore hinted that the movement will not fight President Kiir’s government.
“Machar should return instead of dragging back the country to war. No reason for us to think of other things except seeing to it that peace agreement must be implemented,” he said.
Gore, a powerful politician from Equatoria region of South Sudan, also dismissed as “rumours” that President Kiir’s forces were targeting particular ethnic groups. “There is no group in South Sudan who is targeted. We are the same people, it [is] our country,” he said.
Gore was flanked by SPLM-IO officials including chief negotiator and Minister of Mining, Taban Deng Gai, and Ambassador Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth. The three leaders appeared visibly nervous and under pressure in fear for their safety in Juba.