South Sudan says rebel leader Riek Machar cannot rejoin its government after five years of civil war in remarks condemned by his rebel group as “intended to derail the peace process.”
On Friday, South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth offered to allow a rebel representative to join its government, but ruled out Machar, saying they had “had enough of him”.
"Machar cannot be part of government. We have had enough of him," Lueth said at a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
However, he stressed that South Sudan's President Salva Kiir would hold another face-to-face meeting with his arch-rival and former vice president Machar next week.
Machar and Kiir met in Ethiopia on Wednesday for the first time in two years in an effort to negotiate an end to a five-year-old civil war.
The bloody civil war in South Sudan, the youngest country in Africa, began in December 2013, when the incumbent president accused his former deputy, Machar, of plotting a coup. The two sides have been involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along the ethnic lines. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict.
The United Nations and other bodies accuse all sides in the war of committing atrocities against civilians.
Machar's rebel group the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) issued a statement criticizing Lueth’s remarks as highly immature. "This bad politics is from a known peace spoiler and is only intended to derail the peace process," it said.
The group on Thursday denounced current efforts by the eight-nation East African bloc of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to convene meetings to discuss peace, saying "workshops" will not stop the war and IGAD's overall model is "unrealistic".
Despite the mutual recriminations, Lueth said Kiir would meet Machar again next week in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
"Preparations are afoot to give a new impetus to this new round of talks and ensure a successful outcome," Sudan's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement, noting that the talks would be convened by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
On May 31, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that would renew some sanctions on South Sudan through mid-July. It also threatens travel bans and asset freezes on six South Sudanese leaders if the country’s conflict does not stop by June 30.
Minister Lueth said Machar's group was emboldened by sanctions against the Juba government, saying the international community should levy measures against the rebels too.
Before arriving in Addis Ababa this week, Machar had been under house arrest in South Africa since 2016.
Machar’s spokesman said the rebel leader would travel to Khartoum on Sunday to attend the meeting convened by Sudan, a member of IGAD.
"Riek Machar will be going to Khartoum ... to attend a face to face meeting with Salva Kiir," Mananwa Peter Gatluok said by phone from Addis Ababa on Friday.