By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
November 23, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopian authorities on Wednesday denied they had threatened to deport armed opposition leader Riek Machar to South Sudan if he refused returning to South Africa.
Further, Ethiopian officials dismissed reports alleging that the rebel leader was heading to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO)’s headquarters in Pagak, near the Ethiopian border.
Last Monday, authorities in Ethiopia forced former Vice President and leader of SPLM-IO, Riek Machar, fly back to South Africa.
He was denied stay in Ethiopia for not having permission to stay in Addis Ababa.
The Department of Immigration and Nationality Affairs of Ethiopia said Marcher flew to Khartoum, after entering into Addis Ababa, but return back to Addis Ababa after brief stay in the Sudan’s capital.
“However, since he has no permission to stay in Addis Ababa and based on immigration law, he was forced to return back to South Africa, a country where he initially departed from” the Department told state affiliated FANA broadcasting corporate.
The department said Machar did not fulfil immigration requirements to stay in Ethiopia.
Sources said Machar was in Addis Ababa in transit flight to Sudan. But opposition officials said Machar arrived in Ethiopia in order to use the country in crossing back to his head quarter in Pagak.
Machar stayed for few hours at the airport before been forced to fly back to South Africa.
“He was deported due to lack of coordination and proper arrangements between our office of protocol and public relations and the Ethiopian government,” said Col. Nyarji Roman Deputy spokesperson in the Office of the SPLM-IO Chairman told Sudan Tribune.
“It’s not true that the Chairman was denied entry to republic of Sudan and it’s not true that he intended to go to Sudan”
The opposition official further said the latest incident has no links with any political crisis between the armed opposition movement and the government of Ethiopia.
“We don’t think that the incident been politically motivated,” he added.
Ethiopian officials told Sudan Tribune that they didn’t warn Machar either to board back to South Africa or risk deportation to Juba.
During his recent visit to South Sudan, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said he will not allow Machar in Ethiopian territory further ordering South Sudanese rebels within its borders to leave the Horn of Africa’s nation.
Desalegn said that the country would only cooperate with the unity government in Juba and will not support any peace derailing forces to launch attacks using its territory.
“We will not support an armed struggling group or anyone who opts for path of war and therefore we will not allow any armed movement which is detracting from peace in our region both in Ethiopia and South Sudan,” he said.
The SPLM-IO leadership council issued a statement signed by Riek Machar on 25 September calling to wage a popular armed resistance against the government in Juba accusing it of breaching August 2015 peace agreement.
WAR UNAVOIDABLE WITHOUT MACHAR
Meanwhile a rebel commander of the SPLA-Io forces in Western Equatoria region told Sudan Tribune that whether the region forced Machar to exile or not, full scale war cannot be avoided as long the regime in Juba exists.
“Dr. Riek Machar is not inspirer of armed conflict facing this nation but simple man entrusted by those who felt victim of the regime in Juba, to lead the struggle for the betterment of all south Sudanese including the region,” said Brigadier General John Sunday Martin, SPLA-IO 3rd Brigade Commander Division 9 Midwest Equatoria.
He said any attempt to separate or depose Machar from the movement or depose him from the leadership will worsen the situation.
“The movement will possible spilt into factions on tribal bases which will not only make national unity impossible, but dismantle south Sudan, and make it ungovernable because there is no any political leader at this crucial stage like him to hold more than 200,000 SPLM/A- IO forces together under one command.”
If the international community is interested in bringing peace and stability to the people of South Sudan as well the region at large, then Machar must be deeply involved in the process, he further said.
Last July following armed clashes in Juba, Machar fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), then to Sudan from where he headed to South Africa. However, Martin emphasised that Machar is still in control of the entire SPLM-IO forces.
“Trying to keep Machar away, won’t solve any problems because he is part to the solutions of South Sudan as well part to entire armed forces in structure of the SPLM-IO.
“It is time for the regional body to understand the significant of Dr. Riek Machar in the political affairs of South Sudan and involves him deeply or else, forget about Peace and Stability in South Sudan because their (International Community) exclusive efforts won’t yield any fruits,” he added.