By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan’s president and rebel leader met on Wednesday for the first time since 2016, when a peace deal collapsed and fighting re-erupted between their forces, the Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff said.
The two principals embrace at dinner hosted by the Ethiopia Prime Minister, Mr. Abiy Ahmed.
“The PM Abiy Ahmed hosted a private dinner to President Salva Kiir & Dr Rieck Machar together,” Fitsum Arega said on his Twitter account.
The two rival leaders met for the first time in two years, since renewed fighting in Juba 2016, which forced rebel leader Machar to fled Juba.
Machar, who was released from house arrest in South Africa recently, travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 20 to hold face – face meeting with president Kiir in an efforts to ending civil war.
Observers says the peaceful future is possible with the two principals in South Sudan.
However, President Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Machar’s meeting had been billed by Ethiopia’s government a step towards ending a five-year-old civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced more than three million to flee their homes in the world’s youngest country.
South Sudan, oil-rich producing nation gained independence in 2011 from north Sudan after two decades of civil war but fighting broke out two years later among South Sudanese over power struggling in ruling party, Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Kiir and Machar met individually with Abiy before the three sat down together, South Sudanese opposition party officials and western diplomats said.
The Ethiopian government has been a key actor in the regional bloc IGAD’s faltering peace process for South Sudan.
Meanwhile, regional bloc leaders will meet today, June 21 to discuss the South Sudan peace process as they seek to finalise a conclusive peace deal before the African Union Summit on July 1 in Mauritania.
A several ceasefire the warring sides signed in the Ethiopian capital, including latest in December 2017 was violated hours later.
Both the government and rebel forces were accused of killing civilians and committed atrocities on civilians across the country, since the framework for the deal is not substantially different than it was in the 2015 deal.
That deal collapsed in the summer of 2016, when Machar’s return to Juba led to the resumption of fighting between his forces and the army in which hundreds died.
More so, a coalition of over 200 civil society groups is appealing to President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar to use the face-to-face meeting to end the 5-year civil war.
The South Sudan Civil Society Forum says if Kiir and Riek fails to reach a meaningful reconciliation at this meeting, all hopes for a united, stable and peaceful South Sudan will be shattered.
“At this critical moment where our nationhood and our collective future is at stake, we remind you of your moral and political obligations to meaningfully reconcile with each other as well as with all other political leaders in our country,” South Sudanese Civil Society Forum said in a statement.
Furthermore, President Kiir and rebel leader Machar would expected to negotiate a power-sharing, security and governance plan prepared by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) aimed at quelling the ongoing civil war in South Sudan.