ADDIS ABABA: South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar arrived in the Ethiopian capital Thursday to meet President Salva Kiir, a rebel source said, after international pressure for face-to-face talks to end four months of conflict and avert a possible genocide.
Friday’s talks in Addis Ababa will be the first time the two rivals have sat together since fighting erupted in mid-December. Thousands of people have been killed, about a million have fled their homes and rights groups say there may have been war crimes committed.
The United States, other world powers and African neighbors, which welcomed South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011, have piled pressure on the two men to halt the violence that continued despite a January cease-fire deal.
Washington imposed sanctions on two commanders from opposing sides this week. Diplomats say more steps will follow if there is no action to stop what has become ethnically driven killing.
Machar’s spokesman James Gatdet Dak said Machar was heading to Addis Ababa and that he would meet Kiir after holding talks with the host, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. A rebel source later told Reuters he had arrived.
It is the first time the rebel side has publicly declared Machar’s agreement to attend the talks.
Ethiopia is leading mediation efforts as chair of the regional African grouping the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
“The agenda will be presented by the mediators,” Dak said. “We think they will discuss a transitional government, power sharing, but we will wait and see.”
There had been doubt as to whether Machar would turn up. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week that the rebel leader had told him he would “do his best” to get there. Kiir told international visitors, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that he would attend.
Fighting has increasingly followed ethnic lines, with troops loyal to Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battling supporters of Machar, a Nuer. Machar was sacked as deputy president in July, sharpening their years of rivalry.
Clashes have quickly spread to oil producing areas in the north of the country, reducing the flows of crude by about a third from 245,000 barrels per day before the conflict and threatening the young nation’s almost sole source of revenues.
Warring forces on both sides of the civil war have likely carried out crimes against humanity, the U.N. said Thursday.
Warning of “countless” gross violations of human rights, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said in a report it “finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both government and opposition forces.”
“Countless incidents of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law have occurred during the conflict in South Sudan,” said the report, based on 900 interviews with victims and witnesses.
“These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, the direct targeting of civilians, often along ethnic lines, as well as ill-treatment and the destruction of property. These are crimes for which perpetrators bear individual criminal responsibility.”