Peace in peril as South Sudan violence spurs split in opposition

A peace pact to end more than two years of civil war in oil-producing South Sudan is in jeopardy as one faction of the armed opposition moves to replace Vice President Riek Machar.

A delegation representing Machar in the capital, Juba, say they’re replacing him with Mining Minister Taban Deng Gai, citing loss of contact with the former rebel leader after recent violence. Machar is in hiding in the aftermath of five days of fighting in the city that started July 7 between forces loyal to him and President Salva Kiir and left at least 270 people dead, throwing their power-sharing agreement into turmoil.

“It is obvious that Riek is more popular than Taban, so the prevailing agreement is unlikely to succeed without his participation,” said Augustino Ting Mayai, research director at the Sudd Institute, a Juba-based group. This “impacts negatively on the recently formed government, as well as the security of the nation. Basically, without Riek little stability may be realized in South Sudan.”

Machar and Kiir formed a transitional government in late April, seeking to end a conflict that’s claimed tens of thousands of lives. South Sudan, which has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest crude reserves, is producing as little as 120,000 barrels a day because of the war that began in December 2013.

Regional Force

James Gatdet Dak, a Machar representative in neighboring Kenya, has said the former rebel chief will come back once a regional force is deployed to keep the peace in the capital, a step rejected by the country’s Defense Ministry. Dak, who wouldn’t disclose Machar’s location, has described any attempt to replace the vice president as “illegal and unrealistic.”

The delegation in Juba officially submitted Gai’s name to Kiir’s office at 11 a.m. Monday and expects a response soon, William Ezekiel, a spokesman for the group, said by phone from the city. Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth earlier said the government would have no objection to Gai being chosen.