ADDIS ABABA- South Sudanese today watch with bated breath, developments in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, as the two figure heads in the five year civil war meet to talk peace.
Several people contacted by our reporter expressed eagerness to finally see a step toward an end to fighting in the world’s youngest nation, which has left almost two-thirds of the 12 million population in need of food aid.
The meeting that started on Wednesday between the country’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, the first between the bitter rivals for two years, has left hopes raised.
“Let us wait and see what will happen today [Thursday],” says media manager and social media commentator, Abraham Mariak Albino, when asked whether there is hope for a positive outcome from the Wednesday meeting.
Details of the meeting were still unclear by press time, Thursday. “HE PM Abiy Ahmed hosted President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar to a private dinner. The two met for the first time in two years,” the Director of Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Office Fitsum Arega said without giving details about the outcome of the encounter.
“Faced with the continued suffering in South Sudan, Ethiopia simply can’t stand by. With more work, a peaceful future is possible in South. Sudan,” he further said.
According to sources, only the two rival leaders and the Ethiopian prime minister attended the first meeting between Kiir and Machar since July 2016, which was supposed to discuss only the outstanding issues in the power-sharing chapter of the peace agreement.
On arrival to Ethiopia, Machar, is reported to have held a meeting with the civil society and opposition groups, in which he pledged to defend their points of view in the meeting.
The IGAD Council of Ministers will Thursday meet to discuss the outcome of the consultations and then will submit its conclusions for considerations to the summit of IGAD head of states and government in the evening.
President Kiir is scheduled to return to Juba on Friday but it is not clear if another meeting will take place between him and Machar.
Igad heads of state are due to meet in Addis, on Thursday, hoping to get peace talks back on track.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.
Two years later in 2013, Kiir accused Machar, his vice president, of plotting a coup against him, and violence erupted between the two factions, each accusing the other of ethnic killings.
Heavy fighting again broke out in July 2016, in the capital Juba signalling the collapse of a 2015 peace deal, Machar then fled to South Africa.
Since then a number of armed opposition groups have sprouted, further complicating peace efforts.
Both sides, according to observers, are not willing to make concessions to the other.
In October 2016, then South Sudan army boss, Gen Paul Malong, told this reporter in an interview that Machar was behind the fresh fighting, when he tried to stage a coup that was quashed.
Gen Malong said they foiled a plot to eliminate president Kiir and that Dr Machar’s sabre-rattling about waging war and marching on Juba, the South Sudan capital, was a “very big miscalculation”.
“He left Juba with the same miscalculation. He first asked for ammunition and guns to go back to war. But this miscalculation is coming to an end. Machar is not a threat anymore,” Gen Malong, who is himself today exiled in Nairobi, Kenya said then.
Dr Machar had said, on that fateful day, he survived an assassination plot masterminded by Gen Malong, allegations the former army chief denied.
The Wednesday meeting in Addis Ababa comes against a background of growing international frustration.
In May, the UN Security Council gave the two warring sides a month to reach a peace deal or face sanctions.
Washington was a critical backer of South Sudan during its separation from Sudan, and remains Juba’s biggest aid donor.
But a top US official earlier this month threatened parties on both sides of the conflict with sanctions after a report from a US foundation, The Sentry, said South Sudanese elites were profiting from human rights abuses.