The special envoy of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to South Sudan Ismail Wais told South Sudan in Focus in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he expects rebel leader Riek Machar, who's been under house arrest in South Africa for months, to attend an upcoming forum on the 2015 peace agreement.
Wais said the high-level revitalization forum will get under way December 17 in Addis Ababa, a day after a consultative meeting.
"The main objective of the forum is to be all inclusive, and it will be fatal to exclude any key stakeholder in this revitalization forum," Wais told VOA.
"Of course, everybody cannot be invited, but we conducted the mapping exercise of the key stakeholders and this exercise was approved and we will send to all of the key stakeholders and they have accepted that these are the key players of the issues in South Sudan," Wais said.
The former economic adviser to the president of Djibouti said he and other members of the IGAD consultative team traveled recently to South Africa to meet with Machar.
"We consulted with him. And we discussed the forum and he agreed to the concept that IGAD is proposing for the upcoming forum," Wais said.
Senior government officials, including South Sudan's Information Minister Michael Makuei, have said on several occasions that Machar should not attend the forum for reviving the collapsed 2015 peace deal, insisting that someone within Machar's SPLM-In Opposition could attend in his place.
Asked if Machar will be Addis Ababa in person, Wais demurred.
"We are now in the process of sending the invitations. So far, no one has received an invitation, but be assured when the invitations go out, he will also receive an invitation letter."
Other South Sudanese opposition officials have criticized IGAD's track record on efforts to bring peace to South Sudan.
In July, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, a leading member of the opposition faction allied to Machar, voiced skepticism that the revitalization forum would make a difference and said the forum proves the peace agreement has collapsed. Wais, however, defended IGAD's participation in South Sudan peace talks.
He noted IGAD has been involved in the peace process regarding the South Sudanese since the 1980s, "and it continued, and when this conflict erupted it was IGAD that was on the table, before any other institution."
Wais told VOA that the region is united on one issue: "restoring peace to South Sudan."