, PARIS, Dec 19 – South Sudan’s fugitive former vice president Riek Machar on Thursday called for the army to topple his arch-rival President Salva Kiir, amid fears the world’s newest country is plunging into civil war.
“I have appealed to the SPLM (ruling party) and the SPLA (army) to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country,” he said in an interview with RFI radio, adding he was only willing to talk to the president about his departure.
Some 450 people have been killed in the capital Juba since battles broke out late on Sunday and thousands displaced, as rebels loyal to Machar battle government forces following an alleged failed coup attempt against Kiir.
Kiir has said he is ready to “sit down” with Machar to try to resolve the crisis.
But Machar, who was sacked by the president in July and is now on the run, has denied any coup attempt, and in turn accuses Kiir of using it as an excuse to purge his political rivals.
“We want him to leave, that’s it,” he told RFI.
“If he wants to negotiate his leaving power… we can talk that over, but he has to leave, because he can’t unite the people when he kills them like flies and tries to incite inter-ethnic fighting.”
Human Rights Watch has quoted witnesses as reporting cases of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their ethnicity, warning it could lead to “revenge attacks and more violence.”
The battles have raised concerns of ethnic conflict, with Kiir coming from the majority Dinka people and Machar from the Nuer.
In the interview, Machar accused Kiir of starting to embark on a “genocide” in Juba.
But the government insists the clashes are over power and politics, noting that both sides include leaders from different tribes.
Top ministers from four regional countries had or were flying to South Sudan Thursday to try to kickstart peace efforts, including Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed.
Asked whether he was willing to talk to them, Machar said he was.
“We are for a peaceful solution, we are not for conflict, we want this country to catch up with the rest of its neighbours,” he said.
He also confirmed that powerful military commander Peter Gadet – who rebelled in 2011 but then rejoined the army – was among those working to remove Kiir.
“He is not alone, there are many generals who are responding to this… So yes, he is one of those who wants to see that Salva Kiir is removed.”