South Sudan’s armed opposition said Wednesday leader Riek Machar would be “happy” to meet with his bitter rival President Salva Kiir, but denied knowledge of planned talks in Khartoum.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir this week offered to host a meeting between the warring parties as regional leaders seek an end to the more than four-year civil war in South Sudan which has resisted numerous peace efforts.
Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told this reporter that such a meeting was to take place at the end of June, after his boss apparently welcomed the encounter.
However Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) slammed Khartoum talks as “disinformation”.
“(It) has not received any official communication regarding the venue of any prospective ‘face-to-face’ meeting between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar,” spokesman Mabior Garang Mabior said in a statement.
However he said Machar would “for the sake of peace” be “more than happy” to meet with Kiir.
Bashir’s offer comes after yet another round of peace talks organised by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) group failed to make headway in Addis Ababa last month.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation formed after splitting from the north in 2011, descended into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of plotting a coup.
A peace deal was signed two years later but collapsed in July 2016 when fresh fighting in the capital Juba forced Machar into exile. The renewed violence spread across the country, and numerous new armed opposition groups have formed, further complicating peace efforts.
Efforts to revitalise a 2015 peace agreement resulted in a ceasefire in December which lasted just hours before warring parties accused each other of breaking it.
Tens of thousands have died and nearly four million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes, while millions are going hungry amid a massive humanitarian crisis.
Last week the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan with critical backing from the United States, which remains Juba’s biggest aid donor.
But Washington has grown increasingly frustrated with Kiir’s government as the brutal war grinds on.
Observers say that with the government winning militarily and the opposition fractured more than ever before, there is little incentive for Kiir to make concessions to his rivals.