South Sudan president Salva Kiir replaces rival vice president

JUBA, South Sudan, July 26 (UPI) — South Sudanese President Salva Kiir replaced his rival vice president with his one-time chief peace negotiator, Gen. Taban Deng Gai.

Kiir announced last week that he had fired Riek Machar, who was sworn in last April. In December 2013, Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup and fired him.

The newly installed vice president, a former rebel leader, has the support of the SPLM opposition.

“He has been the chief negotiator,” Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the former secretary for foreign affairs of the SPLM-in opposition, told Voice of America. “He was the one who negotiated this agreement in Addis Ababa. He is a general in the army. He also participated in the war of liberation since 1983. So he has the support of the army and also the support of the party, the SPLA-IO, and he has a lot of support from South Sudanese,” he said.

The rivalry between Kiir and Machar had spurred violence in the capital among opposing military forces.

Machar fled Juba with his troops last week.

Kiir gave him 48 hours to return, and then with Machar still missing, Kiir’s party convened Saturday in Juba and replaced him with Deng.

Nyarji Roman, a spokesman for Machar who is also in hiding, told Al Jazeera the move was a “conspiracy” to overthrow Machar.

The peace deal might be at risk.

“I think there are ways in which there could be a renegotiation of aspects of the peace agreement if there is an intention to implement it,” Hilde Johnson, head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan, told Al Jazeera. “We don’t yet know if there’s intention to implement it, or if there is a desire to scrap it entirely.”

Earlier this month, about 40 U.S. soldiers were rushed to the capital to speed the evacuation of embassy personnel and American citizens caught in renewed fighting between rival ethnic groups.

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