S. Sudanese opposition leader ‘responds positively’ to joining peace talks

South Sudanese armed opposition leader Riek Machar who is exiled in South Sudan has “responded positively” to joining the national dialogue months after ruling out his participation.

The deputy chairperson of the National Dialogue Committee set up by President Salva Kiir in June said talks have been renewed with the rebel leader including rebel leaders Lam Akol, Joseph Bangazi Bakasoro and former army chief General Thomas Cirilo, regional news portal The East African reports.

“We are in a dialogue with Dr Machar, Dr Akol and General Cirilo, among others, because they responded positively when contacted. There is no way they can ignore it,” Gabriel Yoal Dok said on Wednesday in the capital Juba.

He added that the Committee will continue to persuade the rebel leaders to join the dialogue or send representatives.

Lam Akol leads the armed group National Democratic Movement, Joseph Bangazi Bakasoro leads the National Movement for Change and General Thomas Cirilo leads the National Salvation Front.

The National Dialogue Committee was unsuccessful when it sent a delegation to meet Riek Machar in South Africa where he is based.

Leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO), self-exiled in South Africa, said in a letter dated June 24, 2014 sent to the Committee that the National Dialogue is not his group’s focus but rather a mediated peace process.

“Our efforts are focused to search for sustainable peace through a mediated peace process to end the war rather than national dialogue,” he said.

“As much as we believe national dialogue is an important process for the people for South Sudan to engage in, however, it is our considered opinion that the priority is to end the raging genocidal war in the country,” he added.

Machar’s SPLM-IO group has battled soldiers loyal to Kiir for more than three years. The country plunged into civil war just two years after independence in 2011 after President Salva Kiir fired his then deputy Riek Machar.

The East African regional bloc, IGAD, at its Extra-Ordinary Summit in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa this month called upon both parties to return to the 2015 peace agreement whose implementation was abandoned following renewed violence.

The agreement faltered after renewed conflicts in 2016 between the two parties that saw the former First Vice President Riek Machar flee the country to South Africa where he is based.

Kiir declared ceasefire and launched the national dialogue body to organise the national peace dialogue expected to include the armed opposition to address the root causes of the conflict.

He however stated that whoever answers to the call will be included in the dialogue after the opposition earlier hinted that it will not participate.