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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

South Sudan rebel leader arrives in Ethiopia for talks to end civil war

It's the first meeting between the two leaders since truce collapsed in August 2016

South Sudan President Salva Kiir, left, and rebel leader Riek Machar are meeting for talks in Ethiopia. AFP
South Sudan President Salva Kiir, left, and rebel leader Riek Machar are meeting for talks in Ethiopia. AFP

South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday for a meeting with South Sudan President Salva Kiir, as part of talks to try to negotiate an end to a four-and-a-half-year civil war, a rebel spokesman and an Ethiopian official said.

"Yes, I can confirm to you that our chairman has arrived in Addis Ababa airport this morning," rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said, referring to Mr Machar, who had been held under house arrest in South Africa since late 2016 after fleeing South Sudan.

An Ethiopian government official also confirmed Mr Machar's arrival and said he would meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed before his talks with Mr Kiir.

"Riek Machar has arrived," Foreign Ministry spokesman Meles Alem said.

Mr Kiir and Mr Machar are due to meet later on Wednesday. It will be the first between the two since a peace deal between the government and Machar's rebel group fell apart in August 2016.

South Sudan, the world's newest country, has been mired in a devastating civil war for more than four-and-a-half years, with tens of thousands of people killed, nearly four million displaced and its economy in ruins.

The two men have been central to the fate of South Sudan since its 2011 separation from the north.

War broke when President Kiir accused his former deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup just two years after the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

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The civil war began in late 2013 when troops loyal to Mr Machar launched a rebellion against the government.

Seven million South Sudanese, more than half of the population, will need food aid this year, according to the UN, and nearly four million South Sudanese have been driven from their homes by the conflict, which the United Nations ranks among the most serious humanitarian crises in the world.

All sides in the now complex and multi-faceted war stand accused by the United Nations and other bodies of committing atrocities against civilians.