Major Step For Peace In South Sudan As Rebel Leader Returns To Capital

Riek Machar returned to the Capital of South Sudan, Juba, on Tuesday where he called for unity between the two ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer, within the country.

Machar was ousted from his position of vice president of South Sudan in 2013, when the current President Salva Kiir accused the rebel leader of trying to organize a coup. Machar is the leader of the Nuer, who are a prominent tribal group within the country, and were at one point united with the Dinka under the title of SPLM, or Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, to fight their neighbors to the north in one of the many bloody conflicts that Sudan has faced since its independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956.

“It doesn’t mean that the implementation of the peace deal is fully on board or fully implemented, because a lot of issues are yet to be sorted out in the agreement,” the Associated Press reported Jacob Chol, head of Juba University’s political science department, as saying.

AP continued, however, quoting U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power as saying, “this is clearly an important step for South Sudan. After months of delay and obstructionism, both sides compromised to make this happen. It’s the best hope that South Sudan has had in a very long time.”

Rebel Leader Addresses Press in South Sudan

Time reported that Machar was supposed to return on April 18, but was held up over negotiations about how many troops he would be able to bring, and other details like what types of weapons those soldiers would be allowed to have on them.

In August of 2015 several countries forced the Sudanese government to reconcile, and President Kiir to invite the former vice president back into office.

“I’m happy to be back. The war was vicious. We have lost a lot of people in it and we need to bring our people together so that they can unite, reconcile, heal the wounds, the mental wounds that they have. There will be challenges ahead, there will be obstacles but as long as there is political will we can overcome all these challenges, all these obstacles,” the New York Times reported Machar as saying.

Both sides have been accused by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch as having committed grave human rights violations during the two-year civil war, including but not limited to large amounts of rape, murder, and the use of child soldiers.

Sudanese Rebels Holding Weapons in the Air

Despite a peace agreement in August of 2015, ceasefire agreements have continued to be violated, and had already been violated over 50 times in the last 20 months leading up to the signing of the peace deal.

fastFT reports that over 2 million people have been displaced due to the conflict, with Al Jazeera reporting that “tens of thousands” of people have been killed.

Vice President Machar remains confident, however, that peace will soon be restored to South Sudan, with the Washington Post reporting him as saying, “I wish that the security situation will be stabilized in the shortest possible time now that we’re just about to form the transitional government of national unity.”

The Washington Post also reported President Kiir as saying at the induction ceremony that he has “no doubt that [Machar’s] return to Juba today marked the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to the people of South Sudan.”

South Sudan is only 5 years old, having gained it’s own independence from Sudan in 2011, after a plan that began implementation back in 2005 to let the country form its own transitional government. The country has been at constant odds ever since, due to the breakdown of relations between the Dinka and Nuer after fighting with Sudan stopped and internal politics began.

[AP Photo/Jason Patinkin]