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South Sudan President, Opposition Leader to Meet

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir sits with ex-vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar before their meeting in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 11, 2019.

South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar returned to the country on Saturday to meet with President Salva Kiir less than a month before their deadline to form a unity government after a five-year civil war.

Machar last met face-to-face with Kiir in September, when they discussed outstanding issues in a fragile peace deal. His two-day visit includes a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who arrives Sunday with a U.N. Security Council delegation.

The delegation is expected to encourage progress in the peace deal signed a year ago but fraught with delays.

The opposition has said Machar won't return to form the government by the Nov. 12 deadline unless security arrangements are in place.

The U.S. has said it will reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan if that deadline is missed.

The civil war killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions.

Before Machar's return a unified army of 41,500 opposition and government soldiers needs to be ready along with a 3,000-person VIP protection force.

But so far there are only 1,000 unified soldiers and security arrangements won't meet the deadline, deputy opposition spokesman Manawa Peter Gatkuoth said.

The previous Machar-Kiir meeting focused on speeding up the screening and reunification of forces, but parties left the talks with differing views.

Deputy chairman for the opposition Henry Odwar called the meeting “lukewarm,” while government spokesman Michael Makuei called it “highly successful” and said everything was on track for next month's deadline.