Juba (Reuters/NAN) South Sudan rebel leader, Riek Machar, returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday, according to a Reuters witness, more than two years after he fled the country after the collapse of a 2016 peace deal.
Machar, the former vice president, fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 after fierce fighting broke out in Juba, killing hundreds of people. He later traveled to South Africa, where he was held under house arrest until earlier this year.
In September he and President Salva Kiir signed a new peace deal in the latest attempt to end the five-year war.
NAN reports that authorities on Tuesday beefed up security in Juba and its environs to ensure a crime-free environment during peace deal celebrations to be attended by regional leaders.
Lul Koang, the government army spokesman, said that the deployment of the joint security forces is to provide maximum protection to all residents, including the invited foreign dignitaries, regional Heads of States and government.
“All the military arrangements have been completed for the day as instructed by the leadership. A joint security has been set up and deployed in several areas of the town, including Juba airport, hotels and markets to provide safety,” Koang said.
He said the joint security patrols will also be enhanced around the capital to ensure a crime-free environment and urged members of the residents not to panic during the peace pact celebrations.
“The security is tightened. Every place in this country is secured. The South Sudan People’s Defense Forces will be deployed to supervise overall security in Juba and across the nation,” Koang said.
President Kiir, his former deputy and turned-foe Machar, and several other opposition groups signed a power-sharing deal in September in Ethiopia to end hostilities that claimed thousands of lives while creating one of the world’s biggest refugee crises.
NAN reports that South Sudan plunged into warfare two years after independence from Sudan in 2011 when a political dispute between Kiir and then vice-president Riek Machar erupted into armed confrontation.
A previous peace deal signed in 2015 fell apart a year later after clashes broke out between government forces and rebels.
Machar, leader of the main rebel group the SPLM-IO, and other insurgent factions signed the new agreement with the Juba government after assurances that a power-sharing accord would be honored.
The deal, mediated by Sudan, reinstates Machar to his former role as vice-president. The civil war started in 2013, fueled by personal and ethnic rivalries. The conflict has killed at least 50,000 people, many of them civilians, according to the UN.
An estimated quarter of South Sudan’s population of 12 million has been displaced and its economy, which heavily relies on crude oil production, ruined.
The secession of South Sudan also hit Khartoum’s economy hard, taking with it most of the region’s oil reserves.
Khartoum and Juba agreed in June to repair oil infrastructure facilities destroyed by the war within three months to boost production and said a joint force would be established to protect oilfields from attacks by rebels.
The U.S., Britain and Norway, known as the Troika which back peace efforts, welcomed the signing of the deal.
“We hope discussions will remain open to those who are not yet convinced of the sustainability of this agreement. We must seize this broader regional momentum to secure peace for the people of South Sudan,” they said in a statement.