South Sudan rebel leader to meet president in Juba: Sources

Juba, South SudanUpdated: Sep 08, 2019, 09:11 PM IST

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar. Photograph:(AFP)

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The meeting comes as a November deadline looms to form a power-sharing government, a key plank in a 2018 peace agreement that has been delayed by disputes

South Sudan's exiled rebel leader Riek Machar is expected to make his first visit to Juba in a year for talks Monday with President Salva Kiir, government and opposition sources told AFP.

"He's expected to come and sit with President Salva Kiir so that they can discuss all the outstanding issues of the peace agreement and the way forward," government spokesman Michael Makuei told AFP on Sunday.

"He's coming for a peace mission," Kang Pal Chol, a senior member of Machar's SPLM-IO party, told AFP in Juba.

The meeting comes as a November deadline looms to form a power-sharing government, a key plank in a 2018 peace agreement that has been delayed by disputes.

Kiir has not been seen with Machar since the pair met in the Vatican in April, when Pope Francis stunned the world by kissing the feet of two men accused of responsibility for heinous war crimes.

South Sudan descended into war in 2013, just two years after the country gained independence, when Kiir accused his former deputy and fellow former rebel leader Machar of plotting a coup.

Multiple attempts at peace have failed but in September 2018 the warring parties signed an agreement to form a unity government, allowing Machar to return from exile abroad.

Deadline looms

The last time Machar was in Juba was October 2018, for celebrations to mark the signing of the pact.

The power-sharing arrangements under the peace deal were supposed to take effect in May. But the process was delayed by six months until November as both sides disagreed over the terms.

As that deadline has approached, the rivals have come under pressure to meet.

Following their extraordinary meeting in the Vatican, President Kiir told parliament he had forgiven Machar, and urged his rival to return home.

But Machar has been concerned about his personal security should he return to the capital.

He fled on foot under a hail of gunfire when a previous peace deal collapsed in July 2016.

He is currently living in Khartoum, the capital of neighbouring Sudan, the country from which South Sudan broke away to claim independence in 2011.

A spokesman for the president's office did not confirm Kiir and Machar would meet but said "a high-level delegation from the Sudanese government" to the north was arriving for talks in Juba on Monday.

Makuei, the South Sudan government spokesman, said Machar would be accompanied by a representative from Khartoum, which has been engaged in its own bloody transition toward peace since the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in April.

The fighting in South Sudan has left 380,000 people dead and forced more than four million South Sudanese -- almost a third of the population -- to flee their homes.