Regional peace brokers in the South Sudan civil war met Tuesday exiled rebel leader Riek Machar in South Africa, where he has been detained since late 2016.
“The discussion in Pretoria today focused on the possibility of Machar’s release. More details will follow after IGAD issues its statement,” Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, deputy head of the SPLM-IO committee for information was quoted by radio Tamazuj.
A later statement from the group’s spokesperson Mabior Garang said Machar demanded for unconditional release in the close-door talks. However, the statement was silent on the diplomats’ reaction.
Regional bloc IGAD in March has said Machar should be released from house arrest as soon as possible on condition he renounces violence. They proposed that he should “be allowed to relocate to any country outside the region and not neighboring South Sudan”.
IGAD said it had designated officials to decide on a third country. It was unclear why a third country that does not border South Sudan would be preferable to South Africa.
Civil war broke out in oil-rich South Sudan in 2013, when troops loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed with forces loyal to Machar, then the vice president.
Tens of thousands have been killed since. Oil production has been slashed. About a third of the population of 12 million have been forced from their homes.
The warring parties signed a ceasefire in December in the Ethiopian capital, but it was violated within hours. A new round of talks is scheduled for late next month.
The bloc also announced that it wanted to impose targeted sanctions on individuals violating the latest peace deal or otherwise disrupting it, but referred the matter to the African Union.
Third phase of talks
Representatives of various groups in the four-year civil war have started to converge in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to take part in the third of High Level Revitalization Forum, IGAD’s latest attempt in arresting the bloodletting in Africa’s youngest country.
Kwaje Lassu, the spokesperson South Sudan opposition alliance, an umbrella group of all opposition parties in the conflict said “we want to see a just, genuine, sustainable peace”
South Sudan Information Minister Micheal Makuei said last week that Juba is skeptical about the results of the talks because IGAD’s shuttle-diplomatic approach has failed to solve the difference in positions on both parties.
“Why call people for an obvious outcome?” Makuei asked.