South Sudan’s presidential spokesman says Sudan is undermining the legitimacy of President Salva Kiir’s government and bilateral relations between the two nations after representatives of rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar were allowed to hold a news conference in the neighboring country during the weekend.
Ateny Wek Ateny also criticized Kenya for giving Macher a “red carpet preferential treatment” following his recent meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta as part of Nairobi’s effort to help resolve South Sudan’s conflict.
“For the government of Kenya to accord the rebel leader a red carpet is an insult to the sovereignty of South Sudan. Opposition is not accorded the red carpet when they visit foreign countries,” said Ateny. “If Raila Odinga [former Kenyan Prime Minster] comes to South Sudan we cannot give him a red carpet, why should Kenyan do that? For us, it is an insult to the republic of South Sudan.”
“If the president of Kenya was hosting the rebel leader of South Sudan on the basis that he was a former vice president, then it would be William Ruto [Kenya’s vice president] should be doing that.” said Ateny.
Ateny said the preferential treatment given to Machar also insults South Sudan's citizens, since he contends the former vice president has taken up arms against a legitimately elected president.
“This is an attempt to undermine the legitimate government in Juba,” said Ateny.
Ateny’s comments followed a rebel delegation's news conference in neighboring Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The delegation was in Sudan as part of the preparations for an expected visit of Riek Machar to Sudan.
Some analysts say South Sudan overstated its protest citing the country’s constitution, which they said guarantees freedom of speech in the world’s newest nation.
Ateny admits freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, but argues Sudan should have prevented the rebel delegation from holding a news conference in its capital, Khartoum, since the group is at war with the administration in Juba.
“Article 24 of our constitution guarantees the freedom of expression inside the country here. But this is the type of opposition that has taken [up] arms. They use arms to try to change the government, so this is not a normal opposition,” said Ateny.
The violence in South Sudan erupted after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup. Machar denied the accusation, but subsequently formed a rebel group to fight the administration in Juba.