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South Sudan in suspense as new vice-president sworn in

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) embraces Taban Deng Gai after his swearing-in ceremony as First Vice President at the Presidential Palace in Juba, South Sudan, July 26, 2016
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) embraces Taban Deng Gai after his swearing-in ceremony as First Vice President at the Presidential Palace in Juba, South Sudan, July 26, 2016 REUTERS/Jok Solomun

Former mining minister Taban Deng Gai was sworn in on Tuesday as a new vice-president for South Sudan. His appointment comes after his predecessor Riek Machar was sacked by President Salva Kiir for failing to honour an ultimatum to return to the country.


Any doubts about Taban Deng Gai's loyalty to Riek Machar, were confirmed on Tuesday by his appointment as new First Vice-President of South Sudan.

Machar has accused him of plotting a coup against him and his supporters within the SPLM-In Opposition.

Suspicions were raised when Deng sided with president Salva Kiir in urging Machar to respect an ultimatum to return to Juba.

The former rebel leader has been conspicuously absent from the capital since violence broke out on July 8 between his forces and Kiir loyalists. His absence has created a vacuum that Deng now wants to fill.

"[President] Salva Kir is betting on the division among Riek Machar's supporters," Roland Marchal, a research fellow at Sciences Po University, told RFI on Tuesday.

"I think constitutionally the president is allowed to sack a vice president however, politically, to get rid of the head of your main oppositional faction is certainly a bet that is difficult to understand at a time when you're trying to promote yourself as a peace builder."

Machar's sacking a deja vu

There's been little peace in recent weeks, and many people in South Sudan are worried that violence could flare up again as a result of Deng's appointment. Last time the president sacked his rival back in 2013, the country was plunged into civil war.

"Personally, I don't think this bodes well for the peace deal," Peter Gai Manyoun, a member of the South Sudanese Law Society, told RFI from Kampala.

"I think the different groups within the SPLM-In Opposition are all vying for power."

Roland Marchal who says Deng's appointment "will not bring peace, it's going to bring more war. Maybe at first only within Riek Machar's factions, but sooner or later it will be between Riek Machar's supporters and the government."

A ceasefire went into effect on July 11 to curb violence that saw more than 300 people killed. Whether it will hold depends on Riek Machar's response reckons Peter Gai.

"If Machar lets Taban continue then there will be peace, but if Machar rejects his nomination then things could get complicated."

They already did when Deng's faction declared him as the new chairman of South Sudan's opposition, a move seen as "illegal" by Machar's supporters.

Absent Machar still in control

"If Taban had the support of the armed wing of the SPLM-In Opposition that would be better, but they're controlled by Machar," fears Gai, who sees Riek Machar being reinforced rather than weakened by this latest political crisis.

His whereabouts meanwhile remain unknown. He's refused to return to Juba until a neutral African force is deployed to guarantee his safety. That plan has so far been rejected by Kiir.

All eyes are now turned towards regional bodies like IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development), and the international community to see how they will handle this fallout.

"We're working around the clock to provide long and short controls in Juba inside the protection of civilian sites," Shantal Persaud, a UN spokeswoman in Juba told RFI.

Persaud said efforts would be ramped up to counter further violence.

More than 37,000 people have fled South Sudan for neighbouring Uganda in the last three weeks following the upsurge in fighting between rival troops, according to the UN's refugee body, the UNHCR.

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