KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A top South Sudanese opposition leader called Saturday for armed resistance to the government in Juba — a stance that suggests the troubled Central African nation could face a renewed civil war in the near future.
Leader Riek Machar and top officials of the opposition SPLM-IO party issued a statement saying their forces would reorganize to "wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime of President Salva Kiir." It's the first political statement by Machar since he fled South Sudan in August.
The statement, obtained by The Associated Press, came after a meeting Saturday of Machar and his supporters in Khartoum, Sudan.
His call for armed resistance adds to South Sudan's spiraling problems. South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but fell into a civil war in 2013 in which at least 50,000 civilians died and more than 2 million were displaced. A peace deal was forced on both Kiir and Machar last August, but fighting in the capital, Juba, in July put that deal in doubt.
"We have been driven back to the bush," James Gadet, a spokesman for Machar, told the AP on Saturday in a call from Nairobi, Kenya.
Gadet called for the removal of Taban Deng Gai, who was controversially named to replace Machar as the country's First Vice President. He says the South Sudan government must stop attacking civilians and a regional protection force must be deployed in the country or there will be "an escalation of the civil war," which he says began again on July 8.
"(We) call on the international community to declare the regime in Juba a rogue government," the document says, adding that international agencies monitoring the peace deal should "suspend their activities" until the agreement is "resuscitated."
Some critics blame American foreign policy in South Sudan, saying the U.S. has given Kiir a "blank check" to pursue a militant policy.
"It's not at all surprising to see Machar call for continued armed struggle, in light of the U.S. policy to back Taban Deng as First Vice President and the clear absence of a viable political process," Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told the AP.
Machar has demanded that the government accept the U.N. Security Council's decision to send an additional 4,000 peacekeepers to increase the size of the existing U.N. force of 12,000 in South Sudan. The Kiir government has resisted the U.N. decision, saying it violates South Sudan's sovereignty. State Department officials say if South Sudan doesn't accept the additional peacekeepers, the U.S. would support an arms embargo on the country.