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South Sudanese President Appoints Former Rival as Vice President

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir addresses a news conference at the Presidential palace in Juba.
FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir addresses a news conference at the Presidential palace in Juba.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has appointed his rival, rebel leader Riek Machar, as first vice president in a coalition government.

A presidential spokesman made the announcement Friday, saying the president expects Machar to travel to South Sudan's capital, Juba, soon.

Machar told VOA that he welcomes the appointment and considers it a good step in the right direction in the implementation of the deal to bring political stability to South Sudan. Machar said the next thing to do is to move quickly to complete the formation of the transitional government.

Machar's appointment is part of a peace deal signed by the two leaders in August 2015. Despite the deal, sporadic fighting has continued.

Machar was Kiir's deputy until 2013 when his firing triggered an uprising that intensified into a full-on rebellion. Machar fled South Sudan and has been living in Ethiopia.

South Sudan is the world's youngest country, winning independence from Sudan in 2011. Fighting between government forces and Machar's rebels has been especially brutal on civilians.

Both sides are accused of having perpetrated ethnic massacres, recruited and killed children, carried out widespread rape and torture, and forced displacement of populations to "cleanse" areas of their opponents.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million from their homes while pushing parts of the population into famine conditions.

Machar said the international community and regional leaders should continue to help the South Sudanese people recover from the effects of the two years of violent conflict. "We will propagate [our appeal] in the international community to assist South Sudan to raise from the ashes of this war,’’ he said.

A report released last month by a U.N. panel that monitors the conflict in South Sudan said Kiir and Machar were still completely in charge of their forces and were therefore directly to blame for killing civilians and other actions that warrant sanctions.

VOA’s Smita Nordall and John Tanza contributed to this report.

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