S. Sudan marks SPLM/A anniversary amid deep rifts

JUBA – South Sudan's ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which led the struggle for the nation's independence, commemorated its 31st anniversary on Friday.

Yet the divisions that have recently plagued the group took center-stage at an anniversary ceremony attended by President Salva Kiir and other senior party officials.

"When you visit the history of the SPLM/A, you will recall that there were many challenges facing us and are still facing us," Kiir told a Friday rally at Juba's John Garang Memorial Park.

The SPLM/A fought Khartoum in a bitter civil war that ended with a 2005 peace treaty that ultimately led to South Sudan's secession from Sudan in 2011.

But only two years later, differences between Kiir and his sacked vice president, Riek Machar, erupted into all-out conflict, with both men claiming to represent the SPLM.

Since last December, when Kiir accused Machar of standing behind a failed coup attempt, the country has been shaken by violence.

"Many lives were lost in the cause. [There have been] unjustifiable losses because we had – and still have – brothers fighting against brothers," Kiir said of the infighting. "This was just uncalled for."

The conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, with the U.N. estimating that some one million South Sudanese have already been displaced by the ongoing turmoil.

Last week, the two rivals met in Addis Ababa where they signed a peace deal, which, it is hoped, will end the conflict.

Kiir has called on South Sudanese who have fled the violence to return to their homes.

"We must… make sure all the people in South Sudan are safe and united," he said. "I will call again on my brothers and sisters in UNMISS [the U.N. Mission in South Sudan] to come out and stay with their brothers in their homes."

Kiir went on, however, to place blame for the conflict squarely on Machar.

"In 1991 we had a similar scenario, when there was a split in the movement with the same Riek Machar," said Kiir, going on to accuse pro-Machar forces of violating a January cession of hostilities agreement only two days after it was signed.

"After just two days, he violated the ceasefire," the president said. "Machar has shown he is not able to respect anything."

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency