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South Sudan war rivals to meet for first time in two years

South Sudan rivals Riek Machar (L) and President Salva Kiir (R) in 2016 [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 June, 2018

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The meeting between rebel leader Riek Machar and President Silva Kiir would be the first between the former comrades-in-arms since 2016.

The two men at the centre of South Sudan's civil war are scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the first time in nearly two years. 

Ethiopia, which has helped broker the meeting, says rebel leader Riek Machar, who fled the fledgling country in July 2016, will sit down with President Salva Kiir. 

Machar arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday morning for talks meant to build bridges between the two leaders, according to the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in Opposition. 

But analysts say the outcome remains unclear given their notoriously volatile relationship, and there is doubt whether the meeting will even take place.

Although Machar and Kiir were previously comrades-in-arms in the battle for South Sudan's independence, a bitter falling out between the two played a key role in sparking a civil war in the world's newest country. 

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly a third of the 12 million population have been driven out of their homes, and many to the brink of starvation.

The two will meet at the invitation of Ethiopia's new prime minister Abiy Ahmed. He has taken the lead in thus-far fruitless peace negotiations. 

A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.

The event was hailed around the world and by celebrity supporters such as George Clooney.

But in 2013, Kiir accused Machar, his vice president, of plotting a coup against him, and violence erupted between the two factions. The feud has fed on brooding ethnic tensions between the Dinkas, the largest ethnic group which Kiir is a part of, and the second largest Nuer people that Machar belongs to. 

Observers say that because Kiir's forces are winning militarily he has little incentive to make concessions to opposition fighters who are more fractured than ever. 

The meeting in Addis Ababa comes against a background of growing international frustration. The UN Security Council in May gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions. 

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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