By Denis Dumo
JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan’s president wants his vice president to return to the capital to try to salvage a peace agreement that was jeopardized by fighting earlier this month between forces loyal to the two long-time rivals.
President Salva Kiir asked Vice President Riek Machar on Thursday to make contact with him in the next 48 hours, to re-establish a peace agreement signed in August.
Forces loyal to the two men fought street battles in the capital over a five-day period earlier this month, until a ceasefire was reached on July 11. The fighting killed at least 272 people.
Machar then left the capital with his troops, although he said he was not preparing for a resumption of the fighting that convulsed South Sudan from December 2013 and ended earlier this year. His spokesman said he had called for an outside force to be deployed as a buffer his and Kiir’s forces.
Kiir said late last week he opposed the presence of any more outside forces, saying the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) troops was sufficient.
“I am appealing for your return while reiterating my 100 percent commitment to ensuring your protection and overall security … ” Kiir said in a statement read by his spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny. “I will be expecting a response from your good self within 48 hours … “
The statement said Kiir wanted to re-establish a peace agreement signed in August. That agreement ended more than two years of conflict between the Kiir and Marchar forces. More than 10,000 people died over 2 million were displaced, many of whom fled to neighboring countries.
The statement did not say what would happen if Machar failed to return or make contact. He had just returned to Juba in April to take up the position of first vice president, a move that was part of the peace agreement.
“It is an unreasonable ultimatum,” said James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesman. “First of all, President Kiir should be talking of how to restore peace and security to Juba. This can be done with the expected deployment of a third- party force,” James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesman, said.
Late last week, the African Union and the Inter Governmental Authority of Development, an east African bloc, said they supported the deployment of a regional force. They said UNMISS’s mandate should be change to that of an intervention force.
Separately, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said UNMISS was looking into reports of sexual violence – including rape and gang rape – against civilians, including minors, by soldiers in uniform in several parts of Juba.
“The Mission reports that the number of victims could be in the dozens and that these acts have taken place since the start of the current spate of violence in Juba,” Haq said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by George Obulutsa, Larry King)