South Sudan’s main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in opposition (SPLM/A-IO) confirmed that its leader Riek Machar has been released from house arrest in South Africa and will travel on Tuesday to attend talks with President Salva Kiir in Ethiopia.
Puok Both Baluang, the SPLM-IO deputy director of information and public relations, told Xinhua by phone on Monday that Machar will be traveling to Addis Ababa for the much-awaited face-to-face talks with Kiir.
“Yes I can confirm that he (Machar) has been officially released from house arrest and he will be traveling tomorrow (Tuesday) for the talks that will help bring peace to our country,” Baluang said.
The government has not yet confirmed Kiir’s attendance for the talks slated for Wednesday despite having earlier agreed he will meet Machar.
The two leaders were invited for the talks by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a bid to reinforce efforts of the East African bloc IGAD, which is mediating the South Sudan’s peace process to help find lasting solution to the more than four years of conflict.
The regional mediation body has presented to the warring parties a revised proposal to study and share their views on it.
Stephen Par Kuol, the SPLM-IO’s chairman of National Committee for Foreign Relations, also welcomed Machar’s release.
“We are thanking the region and the international community for kind gesture of the releasing of our chairman to come and provide the needed leadership toward peace in our country,” he said.
South Sudan descended into a civil war in late 2013, and the conflict has created one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
A peace deal signed in 2015 between the warring parties under UN pressure was shattered after the outbreak of renewed violence in July 2016 that forced Machar to flee into exile.
The UN estimates that about 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally by the conflicts.