South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar emerged from months of hiding and traveled to the Ethiopian capital Thursday for a high-stakes meeting with President Salva Kiir, aimed at ending months of deadly fighting in their country, sources told South Sudan in Focus.
Machar arrived in Addis Ababa on Thursday, sources said. Kiir is expected in the city on Friday, when the talks are scheduled to be held.
The two men were invited to meet in Addis Ababa by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
During a visit to Juba last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Kiir and Machar to hold talks to try to end five months of violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and pushed South Sudan to the edge of humanitarian disaster.
Days after Kerry visited, both men pledged to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that they would take part in the talks.
Goi Jooyul, a spokesman for the opposition delegation at peace talks for South Sudan, which are also being held in Addis Ababa, called the two leaders' willingness to meet a good sign that would "give a push or a blessing to the ongoing peace process."
Jooyul also expressed the hope that the two leaders will "have a roadmap on how this thing (peace talks) should proceed."
Month of tranquility appears to be holding
The meeting between Kiir and Machar is due to take place on the third day of a month-long truce that the two sides agreed to early this week.
Called the "month of tranquility," the truce is aimed at allowing aid agencies to get food and relief supplies to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes since fighting started five months ago, to allow farmers to plant crops and cattle herders to tend to their livestock.
The truce took effect on Wednesday and, a day later, appeared to be holding, with no reports of major clashes in South Sudan, including towns that have been rocked by heavy fighting in recent weeks.
Media reports said Peter Gadet, the opposition military leader in the war-torn town of Bentiu, who was one of two South Sudanese officials slapped with U.S. sanctions this week, has agreed to lay down arms during the truce period, while another report quoted Information Minister Michael Makuei as saying the government will abide by the truce.
When the two sides inked the "month of tranquility" deal, they also recommitted to a cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed in late January, but has been repeatedly violated since then.
The regional bloc mediating the peace talks in Addis Ababa, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), said in a statement this week that the two sides have also agreed to "immediately begin tackling substantive issues that address the root causes of the crisis" in South Sudan.
Those include discussions on a reaching a durable ceasefire agreement, setting up a transitional government, and drafting a permanent constitution for the young country, which became an independent nation less than three years ago, IGAD said.
Differences on interim government
Regional security analyst David Pulkol said the talks between Kiir and Machar may get hung up on the details of an interim governmnet.
"Kiir would like a situation whereby he will lead the transition government and remain as commander in chief, run the transition and go to elections," which are due to be held next year, Pulkol told South Sudan in Focus.
"He'll try to convince Dr. Riek Machar to get him on board and then they would put together a government of national unity," said Pulkol.
"But people around Machar are saying he will be rejecting that proposal for a transition led by Kiir -- that Machar is going to press for a transition not led by Kiir, and not led by himself," he said.