South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former vice president who turned opposition leader, Riek Machar, will hold talks this week in Addis Ababa, the regional bloc mediating peace negotiations between the two sides in South Sudan's deadly conflict said Tuesday.
The two men are due to meet in the Ethiopian capital on Friday, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) anounced in a statement. Hours earlier, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to Juba that the two men had agreed to talks.
IGAD said it expects "that this critical meeting will help end the violence and killings in South Sudan and provide the necessary impetus to the ongoing IGAD-led mediation process towards an inclusive and lasting political solution to the crisis."
As IGAD made the announcement, the United States imposed targeted sanctions on two South Sudanese military leaders, one from each side in a conflict the State Department said has "led to tens of thousands of deaths, forced more than 1.2 million people from their homes, and brought the country to the brink of famine."
The U.S. Treasury and State departments announced sanctions against Marial Chanuong, the commander of the Presidential Guard, and Peter Gadet, an opposition military leader.
Forces under Chanuong's command are accused of killing 22 unarmed bodyguards of Machar, seven bodyguards of another opposition figure, and of leading the slaughter of civilians in and around Juba who belonged to Machar's Nuer ethnic group, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
Gadet is accused of leading recent attacks by anti-government forces in Unity state and forces under his command are accused of indiscriminately attacking civilians, including women, in April, the Treasury Department said.
"The measures taken against Marial Chanuong and Peter Gadet are only a first step and should serve as a clear warning to those in the Government of South Sudan and those who have taken up arms against it: the United States is determined to hold accountable those who choose violence," the State Department said.
'Encouraging developments' at peace talks
IGAD said, meanwhile, that there have been "encouraging developments" at the current round of peace talks in Addis Ababa, where both sides have agreed to "immediately begin tackling substantive issues that address the root causes of the crisis."
"These include the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and Permanent Ceasefire; Transitional Governance and Interim Arrangements, and a Permanent Constitution," IGAD said in a statement.
The apparent forward progress in the slow-moving peace process follows an agreement signed by both sides Monday to observe a one-month truce, starting Wednesday.
The "30 days of tranquility" would allow aid agencies to preposition humanitarian supplies and enable the people of South Sudan to plant crops, tend to livestock and move to safe areas.
The two sides also committed to open humanitarian corridors inside South Sudan and from neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, to allow relief supplies to get through to hundreds of thousands of people in need.