South Sudan: Uncertainty over rebel leader's expected return

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JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar has not returned to the capital as planned because the government did not clear a flight for his top general, a rebel spokesman said Tuesday.

It is not known when Machar will return to Juba, spokesman William Ezekiel told The Associated Press.

The government demanded the plane meant to carry rebel General Simon Gatwech from Ethiopia receive prior clearance to use South Sudan airspace, he said.

Machar requires Gatwech to arrive in Juba before him. Last year the U.N. Security Council sanctioned Gatwech with an asset freeze and an international travel ban for alleged abuses in South Sudan's conflict.

The government denied flight clearance because the rebels wanted to bring between 260 and 500 rebel troops with Gatwech, more than what had been agreed, said government spokesman Michael Makuei. The rebels had anti-tank rounds, laser-guided missiles, and heavy machine guns, alleged Makuei.

However, the rebels only want to bring 45 troops to bring from Ethiopia, including Gatwech, and they deny the heavy weapons, said rebel spokesman Ezekiel.

Machar was initially expected to return Monday to be sworn in as vice president under President Salva Kiir after more than two years of civil war.

The United States requested a closed-door meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday to discuss the situation, and U.S. deputy Ambassador David Pressman told reporters that Washington is "extremely concerned" that Machar has not returned to Juba.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters that the U.N. hoped Machar would arrive in Juba on Wednesday. "There is no confidence yet between the parties," he said.

The mutual agreement between the two sides in South Sudan allows the rebels 1,410 soldiers and 1,500 police officers in Juba. At least 1348 soldiers have already arrived, besides 22 police officers, Ezekiel said.

The government is also accused of exceeding troop limits. Makuei declined to say how many government troops are in Juba.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called Kiir to remove additional troops from the city.

Tens of thousands of people have died in South Sudan's civil war. Fighting continues despite the peace deal signed last year.

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