An East Africa regional bloc has said South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar is not welcome in their countries, except to join peace talks on his country’s five-year civil war.
A communique after heads of state and government met in neighbouring Ethiopia said Machar should be free to leave South Africa, where he had been under house arrest since 2016, for “any country of his choice except the IGAD region.”
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has led multiple rounds of peace talks on South Sudan’s ruinous civil war, which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.
The communique comes after a rare face-to-face meeting between political rivals Machar and South Sudan President Salva Kiir in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
South Sudan’s government later rejected the idea of Machar returning again as Kiir’s deputy.
But the two men are set to meet again on Monday in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
It was not clear where Machar would go now.
Two years after gaining independence, South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 when Kiir accused his then-deputy, Machar, of plotting a coup. dashing the optimism that accompanied independence two years earlier.
Since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in July 2016, with Machar fleeing to South Africa, Kiir’s government has gained the upper hand militarily as the opposition has splintered into a myriad of factions.
Initially largely fought out between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups – Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer, smaller groups have since spawned their own militias raising questions about the ability of either leader to halt the war.
Multiple ceasefires and peace efforts have been unfruitful thus far.
South Sudan’s East African neighbours have warned that if their latest peace push is as abortive as previous ones, they will have little choice but to back sanctions.