ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – South Sudan's warring leaders will meet face-to-face for the first time in almost two years on Wednesday amid efforts to end a five-year civil war, the government of neighboring Ethiopia said Tuesday.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rival Riek Machar were expected to arrive in Addis Ababa on Tuesday evening, spokesman Meles Alem with Ethiopia's foreign ministry told The Associated Press.
Both sides last week welcomed the invitation by Ethiopia's prime minister to meet. South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny called the invitation "significant," telling the AP that "anything that brings peace in South Sudan is wanted."
Machar fled South Sudan after new fighting erupted in the capital in July 2016, ending a brief attempt at peace in which Machar returned to his role as Kiir's deputy. Machar, who later was put under house arrest in South Africa, hasn't met with Kiir since then.
The face-to-face meeting would be mediated by the East African regional bloc that has led several rounds of failed peace talks. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development last month called for a meeting of Kiir and Machar ahead of an African Union summit on July 1 in Mauritania, saying it would inform a "final decision" on Machar's participation in the peace process.
Pressure has been growing on the warring sides to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and created Africa's largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Both sides have been accused of abuses against civilians, including along ethnic lines.
Early this month the U.N. Security Council adopted a United States-sponsored resolution that threatens an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against six people, including the country's defense chief, if fighting doesn't stop and a political agreement reached. The resolution asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report to the council on that by June 30.
Regional bloc IGAD also has threatened to submit "punitive measures" against violators of December's failed cease-fire in South Sudan, though sanctions would need approval by the bloc's heads of state and government.
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