The 22 SPLA-IO police generals arrived in Juba on March 24, ahead of the planned arrival of Riek Machar, designated first vice president of the planned government.
On March 29, some 39 members of Riek Machar’s body guards arrived in Juba, joining the generals and their counterparts from the government to implement security arrangements for Juba, Bor and Malakal.
They form the first units of a joint integrated South Sudanese police force as sketched out in the August 2015 peace agreement.
François Fall, Deputy Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) called it a very important step, adding that the international community is committed to work closely with the two parties.
The United Nations, governments of China, Ethiopia, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom are financing the return of the opposition forces to Juba.
Head of the SPLM-IO advance team in Juba, Taban Deng Gai, said the two sides should start preparations for Machar’s arrival. “Let the people of South Sudan know that peace now is being implemented. We are appealing to the government so that we form a committee to work out the process of preparing the reception of the first Vice President,” Deng Gai said.
After receiving the first group of generals, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth, said that the two sides are committed to implementing the peace agreement.
SPLM-IO spokesman William Ezekiel said he is optimistic that peace will finally be achieved. “We are serious about the implementation of the peace agreement. This is the move people have been longing to see for almost three months since we arrived,” Ezekiel said.
Ezekiel added he expects more military and police officials from the armed opposition to come to Juba in the coming days but did not give a specific date for when Riek Machar is likely to arrive.
The two sides are expected to form the Transitional Government of National Unity after Machar’s arrival. The August peace agreement reinstated Machar to his position.
The two sides have been meeting in Juba as part of the JMEC, a group of South Sudanese, regional and international members responsible for monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement, headed by former Botswana President Festus Mogae.
Talking at the closure of the JMEC meeting, President Mogae said that he was reassured by the commitments made by the government and the SPLM/A (In Opposition) but he warned that the commitments must be fulfilled.
“We should all work together so that the country can rise from the ashes of destruction,” President Mogae urged, calling on the two sides to spread messages of forgiveness and tolerance.
James Okuk, a lecturer of political science at University of Juba said any step towards the implementation of peace should be applauded. “Anything that reduces the possibility of going back to war is always welcome. The fact that the advance party came and now the generals are coming, it means we are getting a minus from those who could fight the war,” he said.
After fighting broke out in December 2013, tens of thousands of people have been killed and at least two million have been displaced. At least 65,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries especially Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia, seeking refuge from the deadly fighting.
The UN and other humanitarians agencies have warned of a looming famine unless fighting ends, allowing people dependent on growing their own food to return to their homes and farmland.
After more than two years of fighting between troops loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former deputy-turned-rebel leader Machar, this is another sign of action after a peace deal was inked last August.
The agreement, signed by the two leaders under pressure from the international community, outlined plans to form The Transitional Government Of National Unity. According to the August agreement, about 1,300 Opposition forces must come to Juba to ensure the arrival of Riek Machar.