South Sudan vice-president withdraws forces from Juba


Southern Sudanese leader of the Sudan People's Front and opposition Sudan Liberation Riek Machar addresses journalists at a news conference held in Khartoum, capital of Sudan 18 September 2015.

JUBA - South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar withdrew his troops to outside of the capital, Juba, but is not planning for war, his spokesman said on Wednesday as a ceasefire entered its third day.

Forces loyal to longtime rivals Machar and President Salva Kiir fought street battles in the capital for five days before a ceasefire was reached on Monday. 

READ: South Sudan: &39;tense calm&39; ceasefire holds

The events mirror those of December 2013, when a two-year civil war began after Machar, sacked from his post as Kiir&39;s deputy, withdrew his forces from Juba and launched a full-scale insurgency.

"We had to move away from our base (in Juba) to avoid further confrontation," Machar&39;s spokesman James Gatdet Dak told Reuters from Nairobi, saying he was in contact with Machar&39;s forces. "He is around the capital. I cannot say the location."

It was not clear what caused the latest rift between the two men who have long jostled for power, even before South Sudan&39;s independence from Sudan in 2011. The flare-up was apparently sparked on Thursday when Kiir&39;s forces stopped and demanded to search vehicles with Machar&39;s troops.

Gatdet Dak said Machar would stay away from Juba until ceasefire details were worked out.

"He is not returning to the bush, nor is he organising for war," the spokesman said, calling for an outside force to be deployed to act as a "buffer" between Machar and Kiir&39;s forces.

READ: SA citizens trapped in South Sudan urged to contact embassy

Other demands from Machar&39;s side are to implement a joint command, an integrated armed force and a joint police force securing Juba, all issues laid out in a peace deal but not yet implemented, said Gatdet Dak.

"This is the time for diplomacy ... in an attempt to return the government of national unity into its position," said Ateny Wek Ateny, the spokesman for Kiir, adding that the president had held a cabinet meeting with some opposition members on Tuesday.

In another apparent parallel with 2013, Uganda said it was sending troops to South Sudan but this time they would only help evacuate Ugandans, Uganda government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said. In 2013, they had entered at Kiir&39;s invitation to support his government and help with evacuation, Opondo said.

The latest upsurge in fighting has left many South Sudanese angry and uncertain.

READ: Thousands flee South Sudan fighting

"Both Kiir and Machar should be held responsible for the killing of their own people, and for their soldiers who looted our property and killed my husband," said tearful Juba resident Rose Juru, 28.

Kiir and Machar signed the peace deal in August 2015 but spent months arguing over details. Machar returned to Juba in April and was reinstated as Kiir&39;s deputy, a move that was meant to help cement the process.

Regional African states have suggested sending in forces to beef up the UN mission UNMISS with a tougher mandate to enforce peace, instead of a narrow focus to protect civilians.

Gatdet Dak said Kiir&39;s helicopter gunships had pursued Machar&39;s forces and attacked Machar&39;s residence in his compound in Juba on Tuesday, although he said Machar had left Juba by that time. There was no presidential comment on the charge.