ADDIS ABABA — South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar has arrived in Addis Abba for his first direct talks with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir since fighting and ethnic violence erupted in December.
Both Machar and Kiir agreed to meet face-to-face this week, after visits to Juba by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The spokesman of the rebel delegation, Goi Jooyul, said it is a good sign the two leaders have agreed to meet each other.
“And we are very glad that in the next few days, our principals, Dr. Riek and Salva Kiir, will be meeting to give a push or a blessing to the ongoing peace process in Addis Ababa," he said. "Also we would like to see them have a road map on how this thing should proceed.”
This week, the rebels and government agreed to a one-month truce to allow aid groups to reach affected communities, and to allow farmers to plant their fields before the start of the rainy season.
A cease-fire agreement was signed by both sides in late January, but has been repeatedly violated. Earlier this week both sides recommitted to the cessation of hostilities deal after the United States imposed sanctions targeting leaders of both the government and rebels.
The sides also appeared to agree on an agenda for the upcoming talks, including implementation of the cease-fire agreement, discussing a transitional government and a permanent constitution.
But just one day after that agreement, South Sudan's minister of information, Michael Makuei, raised questions about some of the details.
“We have not yet discussed with the rebels, we have not yet agreed with them the establishment of a government of national unity," he said. "Then how can we be told to discuss the tasks, the size and the time frame? We are also required to talk about a transitional, national, legislative assembly. Have we agreed on the transitional period? Or have we agreed to set up a transitional government for that matter?”
The East African bloc IGAD has been mediating peace talks since the start of the conflict. The bloc says it expects a high-level meeting between Kiir and Machar will “help end the violence and killings in South Sudan."
Fighting that broke out in mid-December has left thousands dead and more than 1.3 million displaced from their homes. A possible famine is also looming as farmers have been unable to plant their fields due to the violence. If the fields are not planted by the end of May, there will be no harvest at the end of this year.