JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar returned on Monday to meet with President Salva Kiir and held talks in preparation for the formation of a coalition government in November.
The two men shook hands and said goodnight after an afternoon of discussions at State House, the president's official residence, in their first face-to-face meeting in the capital, Juba, since October. The talks focused on speeding up the screening and reunification of forces in order to create a united national army ahead of Machar's expected return in two months, where he'll once again serve as Kiir's deputy.
South Sudan is slowly emerging from five years of civil war that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions. A fragile peace deal was signed last September, but so far it's been marked by delays and continued fighting in parts of the country.
Machar's trip to Juba is seen by some South Sudan observers as a last attempt to move the agreement forward.
"This is crunch time for South Sudan's peace deal. Either the two main leaders find a way to make the peace deal work, or South Sudan will slip back into crisis," Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group told The Associated Press. The technical process has gone as far as it can without resolving the outstanding political deadlocks, which only the two leaders can agree upon, he said.
The talks will continue Tuesday and possibly Wednesday where outstanding issues will be discussed, such as the number of states that South Sudan will have, said Martin Elia Lomuro, minister of Cabinet affairs. However, the government's made it clear that even if everything isn't in place before November, it will move ahead with forming a new government.
"We have said clearly we will form the government in November, come what may," said Lomuro.
Deputy chairman for the opposition, Henry Odwar said he hoped the current challenges would be overcome.
Machar, who's been staying in Khartoum, Sudan, was accompanied to Juba by Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of Sudan's sovereign council and leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups.
In addition to talks with Machar, President Kiir has offered to mediate between Sudan's government and the rebel groups, saying that it's in the best interest of his country.
"If there's no peace in Sudan there'll be no peace in South Sudan," said Kiir.