The long-awaited return of South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar was delayed for the third time on Saturday after the government demanded verification of the weapons that the vice-president designate would bring along.
Information minister Michael Makuei said Juba had sent a team to Gambela in Ethiopia to inspect weapons that Machar was expected to bring along.
“All these weapons will have to be verified and for them to be verified, the Ceasefire Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), which is the verification body, will send a team of verifiers to Gambella to verify the 195 soldiers who are coming plus their weapons,” he said.
Sources told Xinhua that the verification team flew to Gambela on Saturday and ascertained the weapons and later gave their report to the government.
“The weapons were verified on Saturday. The government of Salva Kiir has not issued permission for Machar’s plane to land in Juba. I don’t know whether they were not satisfied with the report from the verification team.
Machar might be allowed to return on Monday,” a South Sudan rebel official, who did not want to be identified, told Xinhua.
Machar was due to return to the capital on Monday to take up the post of first vice president alongside arch-rival President Salva Kiir, and his failure to arrive has put an August 2015 peace agreement at risk.
The Juba government had agreed that the opposition troops who would come from Pagak via Gambella airport in Ethiopia would be allowed to bring into Juba their heavy fighting machines.
James Gatdet Dak, the official spokesman for Machar, said the latest unexpected demand by the government is an indication that South Sudan’s government lacks commitment to carry out the full implementation of the peace accord.
Machar’s advance team and 1,370 protection troops have arrived in Juba despite continued clashes between his troops with the SPLA in Bahr el Ghazal and Equatoria regions.
Civil war erupted in December 2013 when President Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the country along ethnic lines.
The conflict has reopened deep ethnic tensions in the world's youngest country, which won independence from Sudan in 2011.
Peace talks between Kiir and Machar stalled several times but the two leaders eventually signed peace agreement in August last year, paving way for the formation of government of national unity.