2018-10-31 11:30 AFP
South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba for the first time in more than two years on Wednesday for a ceremony to welcome the latest peace accord for the war-ravaged country.
Machar, who under the terms of the September deal is to be reinstated as vice president, had not set foot in the city since he fled in July 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace agreement collapsed.
The latest deal aims to end a civil war that erupted in the world’s youngest country in December 2013 and uprooted about four million people – roughly a third of the population.
The rebel chief was welcomed at Juba’s airport by President Salva Kiir, Machar’s former ally turned bitter enemy. The two rivals then joined regional leaders at the ceremony to publicly welcome the most recent agreement, signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“To see parties that have previously been divided by violence coming together here in Juba, in a public sign of unity, sends a strong message to the citizens of this country that you are genuinely committed to end the suffering and build durable peace,” he said.
‘Chance to restore hope’
Several thousand people gathered for the ceremony at the John Garang Mausoleum, built in honour of the independence hero who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005.
Among regional leaders attending were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopia’s newly appointed President Sahle-Work Zewde, Somalia’s head of state Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
South Sudan gained independence from its northern neighbour Sudan in 2011 after a 22-year civil war pitting rebel groups against Khartoum.
“Sadly, the hopes and dreams of that moment were lost in the outbreak of the war that has plagued this country for five long years,” Shearer said.
“This ceremony is a chance for the leaders here today to restore that hope and to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for their people.”
The deal has encountered delays on several issues including the reactivation of a joint committee on borders and the number of regionals states.
It was not immediately clear how long Machar would remain in Juba, as his aides have expressed concerns over his safety in the city.
Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesperson for Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group, had said on Tuesday that he would be accompanied by around 30 political figures.
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