NAIROBI, KENYA — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says South Sudan's president and his main rival have agreed to attend peace negotiations this week in an effort to bring an end to nearly five months of fighting. Ban made the announcement Tuesday during a one-day visit to South Sudan.
At a news conference in Juba, Ban said he spoke by phone with rebel leader Riek Machar about his invitation to peace talks in Addis Ababa on Friday.
“He responded positively that he will be in Addis Ababa for the meeting in time, but he said he will try his best because he is now in a very remote area,” he said.
Ban said he expects Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to facilitate a dialogue between Machar and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
President Kiir has expressed his willingness to meet with Machar in Addis.
Thousands of people have been killed since mid-December in violence stemming from a power dispute between the two leaders.
Negotiators from both sides meeting in the Ethiopian capital signed an agreement Monday to consider a “month of tranquility” beginning Wednesday to allow civilians to plant crops and relocate to safe areas.
Ban welcomed such an agreement but said much damage has already been caused by the fighting.
"The country's leaders must close the wounds they have opened. They must support justice and accountability for crimes committed,” he said.
Last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Kiir in Juba to encourage talks and the establishment of a transitional government.
The United States and the U.N. Security Council are both considering sanctions against those responsible for the violence.
In the latest fighting, government troops battled Monday to retake control of the oil city of Bentiu, which rebels seized for a second time last month.
Aid agencies have warned that millions could go hungry in coming months if the conflict is not brought to an end.