A rift appeared in one of South Sudans two main rival groups today, raising the prospect of further turmoil after months of fighting, as members of one faction threatened to replace their leader.
A group inside the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) issued a statement saying its head Riek Machar should return to the capital Juba and carry on his work in the government, or be removed from office. Machar, South Sudan' s vice-president, and his SPLM-IO group, have been caught up with more than two years of on-and-off, ethnically charged fighting with supporters of the country's President Salva Kiir.
Machar left the capital last week after a fresh outbreak of clashes, saying he would only return when an international body set up a buffer force to separate his forces from Kiirs.
Kiir called on him on Thursday to return to salvage a peace deal, and a faction of Machars own group, led by mining minister Taban Deng Gai, today said they agreed.
“The decision by the government to give... Machar an ultimatum is entirely in line with its powers," said William Ezekiel, spokesman for SPLM-IO faction allied to Gai, told Reuters by phone. "On our side, we want him to show up, otherwise we will replace him." Machars spokesman, James Gatdet, rebuffed the threats, saaying Gais faction had no official status in the momement.
South Sudan's politics has long been plagued by splits and rivalries as leaders switch allegiances, in the contest for power and influence in the oil-producing nation, which only emerged from Sudan five years ago.
“Machar has communicated to all his military commanders to cut off any communication with General Taban Deng Gai and his few individuals who support the President Kiirs conspiracy," he said. The two years of fighting started after Kiir sacked Machar as Vice President in 2013 and has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced over two million, many of whom fled to neighbouring countries.
The most recent fighting in Juba has forces 26,000 people to flee to neighbouring Uganda, the UN refugee agency UNHCR's spokesman Andreas Needham told a news conference in Geneva.