ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — South Sudan’s rebel leader arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday, an official said, one day ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with the president since mass violence began in December. The U.S. ambassador to South Sudan said she doubts the two can immediately reach an accord.
The Friday talks will be the first time the leaders of South Sudan’s two warring sides have met since ethnically targeted violence broke out in December, killing thousands of people and forcing more than 1.3 million to flee their homes.
The talks between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, are expected to last one day.
“I don’t believe that they will meet and reach an agreement straight away. But if they can agree on a broad-based process on how to resolve the conflict, end the fighting, that would be a step forward,” Susan Page, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, said during a radio call-in show.
“People want peace. People don’t understand why the country should go into war just less than three years since independence,” she added later.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of conflict with the Khartoum government.
Tewolde Gebremeskel, a top official of the regional bloc IGAD, confirmed Machar’s arrival in Ethiopia. Machar was to travel on to Addis Ababa, the capital, later Thursday.
The leaders’ talks should include an outline for an inclusive transitional government, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said in an interview. Norway is involved in trying to find a diplomatic solution to South Sudan’s conflict.
“Otherwise, there will be consequences that will follow. We will increase our pressure on the parties. Even tougher measures will follow in the coming weeks if there is no political will to solve the crisis,” he said. The U.S. announced sanctions this week against two men involved in the fighting in South Sudan, one loyal to Kiir and one loyal to Machar. The move appears to be a warning to the leaders that more far-reaching sanctions are being considered.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Lueth said on Wednesday that his government’s priority is to first stop the violence. Later talks could be held about a transitional charter, he said.
Brende said Norway will host a donor conference May 20 to assist with humanitarian needs in South Sudan.
Associated Press reporter Charlton Doki in Juba, South Sudan contributed to this report.