INTERVIEW: ‘Riek Machar not a free man as SPLM-IO conference kicks off in Juba’-SPLM-IO mouthpiece

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) Director for Information and Public Relations, Puok Both Baluong, has said his party has not got an official communication from IGAD that Machar is free to move without restrictions, as the party begins its national conference today in Juba.
Radio Tamazuj caught up with him and sounded him out on an array of issues ranging from the implementation of the peace agreement, defections, appointment of local governments, and the SPLM-IO conference, etc.
Below are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Q: Can you tell us more about the SPLM-IO conference that has been announced?
A: The conference is due to begin on 1st to 5th December 2020 and the participants expected to attend are the Political Bureau (PB), National Liberation Council (NLC), members of the SPLM-IO who are currently holding various government positions, such as National Ministers and members of parliament (MPs), state and local officials like commissioners.
The main objective of this conference is to evaluate the peace implementation process. There will be a presentation by SPLM-IO’s component of peace monitoring. The presentation will explain how peace implementation has gone. Secondly, the conference will also discuss how to fill the SPLM-IO’s posts on the national, state, and county levels of the government in addition to MPs and various commissions. Thirdly, we are also going to discuss our bylaws as SPLM-IO and our internal structures. As you know, since the 2016 incident, some of our members were tasked to act in various structural offices and some of them left. We have some vacant positions even among the NLC members so the conference is going to discuss all these issues.
The conference is organized under the theme “How to build sustainable peace through its implementation”.
Q: Will members of the SPLM-IO’s military wing take part in this conference, including the Chief of Staff, General Gatwech Dual?
A: This conference will not include military leaders but will have a report and a presentation from representatives from the monitoring and mechanism of the peace process. So, based on their reports, we will be able to evaluate how the peace implementation is going.
Q: A few months ago, the SPLA-IO chief of staff called on IGAD to allow Riek Machar to visit his forces in various locations to talk about peace and to let the forces know how the peace implementation has gone so far. What has happened about this appeal?
A: This appeal is in place but we have to focus on the priority. It has now been more than two years since the agreement was signed and up to today, we are still stuck at one point which is governance. There are provisions of the peace deal which have not yet been implemented but they can’t be touched unless we are done with the governance.
Till today we have appointed nine governors in various states and they have not formed their local governments. These governors cannot be able to provide our citizens with service delivery. Our SPLM-IO leadership Council has agreed to nominate our representatives at different levels of governance across the nine states. Our previous position was contrary to this. We conditioned our partners in peace to first appoint General (Johnson) Olony as the governor of Upper Nile State before we could send in our nominees. But now, our leadership council has changed its position and decided to send our representatives to nine states.
So, our priority now is to complete the formation of the state government. We have noticed that our citizens are suffering.
This doesn’t mean we are sidelining our military leaders but we thought it was very important to meet with our state government representatives ahead of the formation so that we inform them about the peace implementation process. We have closed the chapter of war and now opening a new page of peace. So peace can’t be a reality unless we work hard to implement the peace deal in letter and spirit.
Q: What is preventing the SPLA/M-IO chairman from visiting his forces in the field?
A: What we all need to know is that Machar is the first vice president per the peace deal. He heads the governance cluster. So, besides being the chairman and the commander in chief of SPLA/M-IO, the deal has given him other tasks.
The main goal of this transitional government is to provide our citizens with basic services after being affected by war. So during the past period, he has been engaged so much in carrying out his role as the FVP. He is still doing that up to now. Up to now, we don’t have local governments.
So, the presence of Machar up to today in Juba is part of his commitment to carry out his role as the first vice president and another commitment is to continue with consultations with SPLM-IO’s members in the states, and how to choose representatives in the states. These are the two reasons that delayed Machar to spend much time in Juba without moving.
If we are done with the formation of the government at the local levels, then, we will begin to look at the security arrangement’s implementation. The deal is not only talking about governance and the security arrangement alone. It talks about economic reforms, healing, and reconciliation. So, if they are not implemented fully, will not consider that the deal has been implemented.
Q: Do you mean to say that Machar is not under house arrest anymore but he has been busy with other tasks that is why he was not traveling?
A: Up to this moment, we have not got any official communication from IGAD that Machar is a free man to move.
Q: What does the deal say about this?
A: The deal was not clear about this issue. We are here in Juba as one of the partners to implement the R-ARCSS. We have been asking the IGAD ambassador on this issue but he responds that as IGAD they are still working on the matter. So for us, Machar is the First Vice President but has not been released by the IGAD. So we are still waiting for his release. At this juncture, I am here reiterating our appeal to IGAD to immediately release Machar from his house confinement officially. We wanted to get a document from IGAD showing us that he is no longer a prisoner. The situation of Machar contradicts the provisions of the deal that asks all parties to release political detainees.
Q: You said you have agreed to go ahead with the formation of state governments without Upper Nile, why the change in decision?
A: We will not nominate our representatives for their appointment because they don’t have the appointed governor yet.
The only thing we could say is to appeal to President Salva Kiir to speed up in appointing Olony as soon as possible so that our government at all levels will be complete. Olony is our full member of the SPLM-IO movement and since his nomination is from our chairman’s office, there is no reason whatsoever, to write any document or commitment. We have seen on social media that president Kiir conditioned Machar to commit in writing that he should be responsible for any insecurity in Upper Nile if Olony is appointed governor.
Other governors even from the SPLM-IO, SPLM-IG, or other political parties have been appointed without any commitment, so what is so unique about Olony? This is not a genuine condition. According to the power-sharing deal, SPLM-IO is free to choose and appoint their representative to those three states.
We also refute allegations that Olony has refused to take his forces to the training centers. This is not true. The agreement was very clear about the two phases of the training centers. Olony is the commander of sector 1 of SPLA-IO’s forces. So all the reasons that have been put forward by SPLM-IG against the nomination of Olony indicate that they are trying to interrupt the appointment of Olony or that there should be no complete government structure in Upper Nile nor South Sudan.
Q: How many participants are you expecting to attend the conference and will Olony be among the attendees?
A: We expect nearly one thousand five hundred individuals including all the categories I mentioned earlier.
Q: In recent days your movement has been witnessing a lot of defections and they leveled a lot of accusations against the chairman, Machar. Are these going to be on the agenda for discussion during the conference?
A: These are normal things in any political movement and what they said are supposed to be discussed internally within the movement. But what we have seen is that when they go out they try to create a story. Some of them, when they fail to get a position, resort to cheap accusations. The loyalty of every individual to any association is different. We wish them all the best of luck with their next political move.
During the conference, we will discuss the bylaws, manifesto of the SPLM-IO. But we believe that defections are normal things and all the reasons raised by them are all untrue. SPLA/M-IO is a national movement that includes all South Sudanese and it is the major political movement in the country.

Source: Radio Tamazuj