Machar to return to Juba in mid-April
South Sudanese opposition leader Riek Machar said on Thursday he would return to the capital Juba on April 18 to form a transitional government with President Salva Kiir, more than two years after a feud between the two erupted into war.
Kiir's spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said Machar's return was a significant step towards the implementation of a peace deal signed in August to end the conflict that started in late 2013.
Kiir sacked Machar as vice president in 2013, exacerbating a political dispute that escalated into fighting in December that year between soldiers taking sides, reopening ethnic rifts between Kiir's Dinka group and Machar's Nuer.
Fighting was initially contained to Juba but Machar and his supporters left the capital. After that, violence spread across South Sudan, killing thousands and forcing more than 2.3 million people to flee their homes.
Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and other powers, the sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January. The deal has broken down repeatedly.
"I am therefore confirming the date of my arrival to be April 18 and thereafter form with President Kiir the Transitional Government of National Unity and hold the Transitional National Council of Ministers," Machar said in a letter to the head of the body monitoring the implementation of the peace deal.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan said in a statement on Wednesday that it had helped Machar's SPLM/A group transport 802 military and police officers to Juba, including two of its generals.
"His return will mark the real beginning of the implementation given that all this time partial implementation was not workable and the government is feeling relieved and the return of Dr. Machar is applauded," Ateny told Reuters.
Machar had said in February that a condition for his return to Juba and taking up his old position of vice president was the demilitarisation of the capital and that some of his soldiers be allowed to return with him.
The conflict has hammered the economy of South Sudan, an oil exporter. Its currency has weakened, inflation has spiralled and oil revenues have dropped due to falling production and a plunge in world prices.