File photo shows South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar attend a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, on Sept. 18, 2015. (Xinhua/Hohammed Babiker)
JUBA, May 15 (Xinhua) -- A senior South Sudanese rebel official on Monday said the region-backed peace efforts in the war-torn country will not yield fruits unless leaders stopped viewing the exiled former first vice president Riek Machar as a peace spoiler.
Sudan People's Liberation Army-in opposition (SPLA-IO) deputy military spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel told Xinhua that Machar now exiled in South Africa due to pressure from the region but that his absence will not deter them from operating.
"The region thinks without Machar, they will manage to neutralize SPLA-IO but that proved difficult for them to achieve," the spokesman said.
He urged the region to help get their leader out of exile in South Africa for the sake of peace in the youngest nation.
"Without Machar, there will be no peace at all whether they send millions of U.S dollars to convince us to lay down our arms, it won't work. He is still in control of the SPLA-IO forces, but when the SPLA-IO decides to work on its own to make sure its commander in chief is released, Juba will never experience a day of peace," he said.
The rebel spokesman also warned that unless region and the international community helped free Machar from his exclusion, they will keep up the fight against President Salva Kiir's government.
He also said Machar was not weakened in exile, but instead actively restructuring the military wing of the SPLA-IO.
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy Machar led to fighting that pitied mostly Dinka ethnic soldiers loyal to Kiir against Machar's Nuer ethnic group.
A peace agreement was signed in 2015 but was shattered in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital, forcing Machar to flee into exile.
And since then the escalation in fighting have dragged in new splinter rebel groups with one under former Deputy Chief of General Staff General Thomas Cirilo Swaka alongside other militia groups operating largely in Equatoria region.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced over 2 million from their homes, and forced more than 1.5 million to flee into neighbouring countries.