Kenya’s main opposition leader, Raila Odinga has today flown to South Africa as part of the diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the civil war in South Sudan.
Mr Raila, who earlier met President Salva Kiir, is expected to meet with rebel leader Riek Machar, in an effort to reconcile the rival leaders.
The meeting comes barely a month after peace talks mediated by the regional bloc (IGAD) ended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia without the rival parties agreeing on governance and security arrangements.
Mr Raila is expected to meet both Machar and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss South Sudan’s situation with hopes of striking a permanent peace agreement to end the current civil war.
President Kiir has already expressed willingness to meet his political rival with Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir set to mediate between the two.
Analysts say the involvement of Mr Raila, a key figure in Kenyan politics, clearly indicates the warring factions in South Sudan are dissatisfied with the mediation efforts of IGAD, an eight-member regional bloc.
IGAD had earlier proposed that Kiir-Machar meeting takes place before the African Union Summit to be held on July 1 in Mauritania.
Meanwhile, the deputy chairman and chief negotiator of the Machar-led armed opposition faction, Henry Odwar has welcomed Raila’s new role to have the two leaders hold face-to-face meeting.
He, however, demanded that the exiled rebel leader be released.
“They are saying he [Machar] is a violent man. How then could he have formed this committee to negotiate peace? He should be released, and that will shorten the peace talks. We have taken a year now, and we are not making much of headway,” Odwar told said.
He urged Kenya and other regional countries interested in a peaceful South Sudan to push for Machar release so that he can fully concentrate on the talks.
On the other hand, South Sudan’s Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth told Voice of America he expects Raila to convince Machar to denounce violence and re-negotiate some of the rebels’ proposals that have hindered agreement on a peace deal.
“The first and most important thing is for Dr Machar to denounce violence. Some of the proposals the opposition has presented are almost impossible to implement, and they don’t in any way amount to reaching peace soon,” said Lueth.
He added, “Mr Odinga should actually work to soften the position of the opposition”.
Last month, the rival parties involved in South Sudan’s peace talks concluded the Second Phase of the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia without striking a deal on the implementation of the governance and security arrangements.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in fighting between troops loyal to Kiir and forces led by his former deputy Riek Machar since 2013. The conflict has also left a quarter of South Sudan’s population of 12 million, either internally displaced or as refugees in neighbouring countries.