Makuei behind expulsion of peace monitor from South Sudan: document
South Sudan's government has expelled a senior official of peace monitoring body JMEC, acting on the recommendation of Minister of Information Michael Makuei, according to a government document seen by Radio Tamazuj.
JMEC, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, is the body that monitors the August 2015 peace deal, headed by former Botswana president Festus Mogae.
The monitoring group's acting chief of staff Aly Verjee was declared 'persona non grata' by the country's interior minister and ordered deported last week, even as the group was brokering a compromise deal on the arrival of SPLM-IO Chairman Riek Machar to Juba.
“I Gen. Acuil Tito Madut, Acting Minister of Interior & Wildlife Conservation, do hereby declare Mr. Aly Varjee [sic] Personna Non grata [sic] (PNG) and must be deported within first available flight out of South Sudan within 24 hours W.E.F. the date of signing,” reads the ministerial order in part.
The order is dated 11 April but seemingly was not circulated and acted upon until last Thursday, 21 April, when security personnel sought to arrest Verjee immediately after a meeting of the JMEC board in Juba. Diplomats who were present at the time formed a 'human chain' around Verjee, using their own diplomatic protection as a shield, a source told Radio Tamazuj, confirming an earlier report by Al Jazeera.
President Festus Mogae, who had already left the venue when this initially happened, returned upon hearing of the incident and joined in the diplomats' protest against Verjee's arrest. Although this prevented his arrest and immediate deportation, Verjee left the country the following Monday, 25 April.
A source with knowledge of the matter suggested the aim of the move may be to weaken JMEC or because of personal animosity of Michael Makuei, the government spokesman and one of its representatives on the JMEC board.
This is confirmed in part by a separate letter seen by Radio Tamazuj, written by Gen. Makur Marol Aduot, Inspector General of Police, in which he says that authorities acted on advice from Makuei in making their decision to expel Verjee.
“The National Aliens Committee (NAC) deliberated on the noted presented by the Government of South Sudan Spokesperson [i.e., Makuei] and unanimously considered Aly Varjee [sic] as persona non grata that deserves deportation under Section 27 (a) of the Nationality, Passports and Immigration Act.
Makur's letter, which is addressed to the interior minister, suggests a collaboration of immigration authorities with the National Security Service to carry out the deportation.
The letter cites two different reasons for the expulsion. The first reason given is that the government reportedly requested that the JMEC secretariat “be purely from South Sudan Nationals,” according to Makur's letter.
If this policy were adopted, it would mean that Verjee, a British national, could not be employed by the monitoring organization. However, the secretariat of JMEC is entirely international and none of the other staffs have been expelled.
The second reason cited in Makur's letter is that Verjee's presence would be detrimental to the country's security. “This British citizen is believed to be doing some dubious business which can affect the security of South Sudan,” wrote the police chief.
For his part, Michael Makuei described Verjee as an “intruder”. “We don't want him to continue working with the JMEC secretariat because he has been working in the IGAD secretariat in Addis Ababa. We need new people who can respect South Sudanese,” Makuei said, as quoted by The Niles, an online publication.
Mawien Makol Ariik, the foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, told The Niles that Verjee was expelled for “misrepresenting” the government’s efforts in attaining peace. “He has been very arrogant and we cannot tolerate him,” Ariik said.
“We are implementing peace and the government is very committed but Verjee is always saying the government is not doing anything,” he added.
This development comes after Makuei opposed a compromise proposal brought by JMEC for the return of opposition leader Riek Machar to Juba. Speaking to press after the same JMEC meeting last week where security personnel sought Verjee's arrest, Makuei sharply criticized the proposal. But Makuei was later overruled by the president, who accepted for Machar to come back to Juba in accordance with the terms of the JMEC proposal.
File photo: Michael Makuei (credit: UNMISS)