ARUSHA, Tanzania: Warring South Sudanese factions gathered in Tanzania Wednesday in the latest peace efforts to end over a year of civil war which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Rebel chief Riek Machar is expected to meet later Wednesday with arch-rival President Salva Kiir to ink the latest in a string of agreements, Tanzanian government officials said.
The two sides are expected to sign an agreement aimed at reunifying the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said Salvatory Rweyemamu, from the office of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is hosting the talks.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni — who has sent in troops to back Kiir’s forces — as well as Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta are also attending the talks, being held near the northern Tanzanian tourist town of Arusha.
“We are working towards the beginning of the conclusion of armed conflict,” Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, in December 2013 when Kiir accused his sacked deputy Machar of attempting a coup.
Kiir and Machar last met in November in Addis Ababa, where they agreed an immediate halt to the war, a deal broken within hours.
The fighting in the capital Juba set off a cycle of retaliatory massacres across the country, pushing it to the brink of famine.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is also in Arusha to “bear witness to the signing of a unity agreement between different sections of the SPLM”, his spokesman said.
The talks in Tanzania are a parallel effort to stop-start peace negotiations brokered by the east African regional bloc IGAD in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Another round of IGAD talks are due on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa at the end of January.
But the war continues.
This week, military spokesman Philip Aguer said the army and rebels had fought heavy battles in the central Lakes state, and accused Machar’s forces of blowing up an oil well in Unity state.
“Machar’s forces have been spreading destruction… burning villages, destroying oil wells,” he said.