World Bulletin / News Desk
Five senior political figures of South Sudan who had been living in exile for more than two years returned to capital Juba on Friday, raising hopes that a recently signed agreement between the warring factions of the country will bring much needed peace.
Among the exiles who returned was Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang de Mabior, who founded the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party. De Mabior died in a plane crash in 2005, which led to South Sudan President Salva Kiir's takeover of the party.
Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) is the breakaway faction of the party led by rebel leader Riek Machar, who was sacked as vice president by Kiir in 2013. Garang along with several others had joined this breakaway faction, most of whom were held as political detainees until their release to Kenya weeks later.
"We ask God to give us all the strength so that we implement this peace," Garang said on her return. "I am here as a mother of people of South Sudan... all of us came, we are bringing peace, there is nothing else that we are bringing," she said.
Oyai Deng, former national security minister; Majak d'Agoot, former defense minister; John Luk, former justice minister, and Deng Alor, former Cabinet minister, also returned to their country.
"We have come home finally," John Luk, spokesman for the group, said. "As a result of the peace agreement that was signed and finalized in Ethiopia there is no further negotiation in Ethiopia. What is left for us is to implement what we had agreed. And, therefore, it requires that all of us are in South Sudan," Luk said.
He said that it was a historic responsibility for South Sudan's leaders to participate in the implementation of the peace agreement because all sides had committed to immediately stop the war.
"The government of the Republic of South Sudan is happy to receive them back, everybody is yearning for the rest, especially the SPLM-IO to follow the suit and come to back home since the peace implementation is no longer in Addis Ababa, but here in Juba," South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters Friday at the Juba International Airport.
South Sudan slid into chaos after Kiir sacked his own ex-vice president Machar in 2013, accusing him and scores of others of plotting a coup. In the ensuing violence that descended into a civil war and spread quickly across the country, tens of thousands were killed and nearly two million people were displaced.
Talks between the South Sudanese government and SPLM/A-IO stalled last year in December. Since then, African Union mediators have been working to get the negotiations in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa back on track.
On Oct. 26, the warring factions in South Sudan agreed in Addis Ababa to form a joint police force and implement the demilitarization of Juba city, following an impasse in the peace deal signed by Kiir and Machar in August.
According to the agreement, a 3,000-strong Joint Integrated Police Force -- 1,500 from each warring groups -- will be formed for a 30-month transitional period. "The Presidential Guard shall be limited to 1,000, [while] the first vice president’s protection detail shall be limited to 300," the agreement said.
Also, according to the deal, the South Sudanese capital and 25 kilometers around it will be demilitarized, while 5,000 lightly-armed guards will secure barracks, bases and warehouses.
Another agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on Nov. 4, which said that the SPLM/A-IO led by Machar will enter Juba to start the 30-month Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) to end 21 months of war. The transitional period is expected to last for a period of two-and-a-half years during which the army, currently split into two between the warring factions, is expected to be reunified.