South Sudan President Salva Kiir will not attend a meeting at the United Nations later this month aimed at bolstering the peace process in his young nation because he received the invitation too late, Information Minister Michael Makuei has said.
President Kiir "was given the invitation at such short notice" and had already designated Vice President James Wani Igga to represent South Sudan at the U.N. General Assembly, Makuei told VOA.
The annual general debate at the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly runs from September 28 until October 3. The special meeting on South Sudan is scheduled for September 29.
Not avoiding Machar
Makuei insisted that President Kiir is not trying to avoid a face-to-face meeting with the leader of South Sudan's armed opposition, Riek Machar, who was also invited to the U.N. talks and has said he will attend.
“He has been meeting with him (Machar) so many times in Addis Ababa and he is ready to meet him anywhere," Makuei said.
Machar, on the other hand, will attend the meeting to "show our commitment to the U.N. and that we are for peace,” the secretary for foreign affairs of the SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO), Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, said.
President Kiir was notably absent last week when Machar held talks in Khartoum with Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on the recently signed peace deal for South Sudan.
And just days before the IGAD-imposed August 17 deadline for the warring sides in South Sudan's conflict to sign a peace deal, government officials announced that Mr. Kiir would not travel to Addis Ababa where the peace talks were taking place.
The lead government negotiator at the talks, Nhial Deng Nhial, said the South Sudanese president only received a formal invitation to attend the peace negotiations the day before he was supposed to travel.
“Obviously, on such short notice, you wouldn’t expect him to come,” Deng told South Sudan in Focus in a telephone interview from Addis.
Regional bloc IGAD sent the talks' schedule to Mr. Kiir and Machar weeks earlier.
Mr. Kiir eventually did a last-minute about-face and attended the talks, but he did not sign the peace agreement by the deadline, as Machar did. Mr. Kiir added his signature nine days later, but also appended 16 reservations that he had with the deal.
Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.