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At stake in the faction-fighting among the opposition is the chance of a national peace and a reformed security system
Fissures between the opposition party and its military wing pose the latest existential threat to the fragile peace process in South Sudan and could delay plans for a united national army.
Over the weekend of 7-8 August fighting erupted between military factions of Vice-President Riek Machar's Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO). It came after Machar's rivals claimed that they had deposed him as the head of the party and its military forces on 4 August (AC Vol 60 No 4, Bumps on the road to peace).
The fighting in Magenis in the Upper Nile region, between forces loyal to Machar and those backing Lieutenant-General Simon Gatwech Dual, saw both sides make claims of having killed dozens of soldiers.
The attempted ousting of Machar last week, by Lt. Gen. Dual and Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng of the SPLA-IO, who accused Machar of nepotism, dictatorship and abandoning the vision of the party, follows a long-running power struggle. In June Machar sought to dismiss Dual from his post as chief of general staff.
SPLM-IO spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said the party's forces responded 'in self-defence' and killed two major-generals and over 27 soldiers. He said those fighting on SPLA-IO side lost three soldiers during the attack.
The 2018 peace agreement, setting out the terms of the transitional government, makes Machar hard to shift because he is specifically named as the person from the SPLM-IO to take the seat of first Vice-President as long as the transitional government exists. Machar's allies, meanwhile, have hinted that the attempting ousting could have been planned by other members of the unity government to strengthen President Salva Kiir's position.
Others have pointed to the attempted putsch as a sign of widespread frustration with the unity government and at the glacial pace of implementing the peace plan.
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