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US to Dial Back Peace Efforts in South Sudan

FILE - South Sudanese rebel soldiers raise their weapons at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Thursday, April 7, 2016.
FILE - South Sudanese rebel soldiers raise their weapons at a military camp in the capital Juba, South Sudan, Thursday, April 7, 2016.

The United States is set to take a back seat in peace negotiations between the government of South Sudan and rebel leaders following failures on both sides to fulfill an agreement to form a transitional government.

On Saturday, the government denied landing permission for a plane carrying opposition leader Riek Machar because the rebel leader made an “arbitrary demand” to bring with him more weapons and troops than the two sides had previously agreed upon, U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Sunday.

“Given the actions by both sides to prevent or delay his return, it is now time for the parties to assume primary responsibility for facilitating the return of Riek Machar to Juba to form the [transitional government] and to demonstrate that they are genuinely committed to peace,” Kirby said.

Moving forward, the scope of U.S. involvement in helping South Sudan confront security and economic issues will “depend on the parties demonstrating commitment to work together to implement the agreement,” he added.

In August, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Machar signed a peace deal that would unite the two sides to run a national government with Machar serving as the vice president. He had previously served as vice president before Kiir accused him of plotting a coup in December 2013.

The accusations launched a civil war in the country that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced more than two million people from their homes. Machar fled the country when the war broke out, but was set to return April 18 after the two signed the peace deal. He missed that deadline and several more.

Machar is now scheduled to return to Juba Monday - the third time in a week he has been scheduled to return - but U.S. special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth warned that the country could face increased sanctions from the United Nations if the two sides do not fulfill their agreement.

"They are definitely on notice," he said. "The entire world is expecting them to live up to their word and to implement the agreement that they signed last August."

The U.N. Security Council will meet Tuesday to discuss the crisis and potential repercussions.

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