The advance team of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of former vice-president, Riek Machar, is expected in the South Sudan capital Juba later today.
According to media sources the first group of the advance team will leave Pagak to Juba through the airport in Gambella town, the regional capital of the western Gambella region of the neighbouring Ethiopia, from where they will be airlifted.
“The first group of the advance team of SPLM/SPLA (IO) comprising 150 cadres will arrive in Juba on Monday, December 21,” confirmed James Gatdet Dak, official spokesman of the opposition leader, Riek Machar, in a statement to the media on Sunday.
“They will be led by the Chief Negotiator, General Taban Deng Gai,” he said.
He said a remaining number of 459 to make a total of 609 will follow on different dates before the end of the year.
Dak said the first group that will mainly compose of members who will be participating in meetings of various institutions established under the peace agreement, including their support staff.
He also said a number of senior military generals from the military council of the opposition army will also be among the first group.
In Juba, Akol Paul Kordit, who is the spokesman of the national committee set up by the government to receive and accommodate the advance team also confirmed that the team will arrive today.
The government’s national committee for the reception of the advance team is chaired by the minister of finance and economic planning, David Deng Athorbei.
The arrival of the team had been cancelled many times in the past due to disagreements between the government and the opposition faction.
While the SPLM-IO wanted the over 600 to return to Juba and other states in order to mobilize the populations in support to the full implementation of the peace deal, the government wanted less than 50 of them, saying the ‘huge number’ constituted a security risk, resulting to the delays.
However, with this week’s intervention of the chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana, who is tasked with the responsibility to oversee the implementation of the peace agreement, the government finally accepted to receive the number.
Upon arrival at Juba airport, the team will hold a press conference, then move to the mausoleum of late Dr. John Garang to pay respect, and then visit the SPLM House before finally going to their hotels where they will be accommodated.
The parties are now expected to jump-start the implementation of the first phases of the peace agreement including deployment of joint integrated forces in Juba, constitutional amendment, selections of ministerial portfolios and designated ministers and additional members to the national parliament as well as formation of a transitional government of national unity by 22 January 2016.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, wife of late SPLM leader John Garang de Mabior recently returned to South Sudan after spending two years in exile in Kenya, following the outbreak of war in her country in December 2013 and her subsequent fallout with the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit.