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SPLM-IO refutes reports of Machar’s refuge in South Africa

September 19, 2016 (JUBA) – The armed opposition faction of SPLM-IO led by former First Vice President, Riek Machar, said allegations that their leader would be sent to South Africa as a refugee is not true.

South African President Jacob Zuma meets South Sudan's First Vice President, Riek Machar in  Pretoria on 18 February 2016 (ST Photo)
South African President Jacob Zuma meets South Sudan’s First Vice President, Riek Machar in Pretoria on 18 February 2016 (ST Photo)
On Sunday, the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya, quoted spokesperson for President Uhuru Kenyatta as claiming that South Africa has “agreed” to host the former South Sudanese first vice president and leader of the armed opposition faction.

Kenya’s State House communications chief, Manoah Esipisu, told a local newspaper that President Uhuru Kenyatta had to cancel a pre-arranged trip to the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in order to “attend to the fast-moving situation in Somalia and South Sudan.”

Esipisu told Daily Nation, a Kenya independent newspaper, that South Africa has expressed readiness to host Machar as a refugee in the country.

“Following the IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] meeting in Mogadishu, Somalia, last week, there are a series of follow-up sessions that His Excellency [President Kenyatta] needs to personally attend to, given that Kenya is a senior player in the region alongside Ethiopia,” said Esipisu on Monday.

Describing persuasion for Machar to be given to the care of South Africa as a “delicate issue,” Esipisu said President Kenyatta’s involvement is essential to realize peace in South Sudan.

“Currently he [Machar] is holed up in Khartoum but there are ongoing deliberations, and very delicate ones for that matter, on where he should be eventually resettled,” said the spokesperson of the Kenyan president.

“South Africa has agreed to take him in but there is a feeling that other options be looked into. That is why it was felt that His Excellency’s [Kenyatta’s] involvement in these matters is very essential,” he said without elaborating.

He said President Kenyatta had to delegate his deputy, William Ruto, to represent him in the UN General Assembly meeting in New York so that he had time to focus on the matter at home.

“That is why it was decided that the Deputy President [William Ruto] represents him [President Kenyatta] in New York,” he said, when asked why the Kenyan leader skipped the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

However, Machar’s spokesperson dismissed the allegation as untrue.

“No, we are not aware of this suggestion. Our leader, Dr. Riek Machar, is not aware of such suggestion to make him a refugee. And why would he be made a refugee when he is the Chairman of the SPLM (IO) party and the Commander-in-Chief of the SPLA (IO) army in South Sudan? He has an active role to play in the country in order to restore peace and stability as well as take the country to prosperity,” said James Gatdet Dak, spokesman for the opposition leader.

Machar fled Juba for his life in July when fighting erupted between his bodyguards and thousands of soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.

He crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 17 August and was airlifted by UN Mission in that country before continuing his journey to Khartoum, Sudan “on humanitarian ground” where he got medication assistance. His spokesman said he has been discharged from hospital weeks ago but has not made a public statement.

The SPLM-IO group that appointed Taban Deng Gai as Machar’s replacement wanted the former vice president to stay away from Juba till elections in 2018 but Machar’s supporters dismissed Gai’s rise to power as illegal.

(ST)