JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan's troubled ruling party is trying to pull itself together ahead of a new round of peace talks on the country's civil war, with high-profile assistance from Egypt and Uganda.
The attendance on Thursday of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at a special party conference came amid reported friction inside the administration of South Sudan President Salva Kiir.
Kiir has faced recent calls for his resignation as international frustration rises with the five-year civil war in the East African nation that has left tens of thousands dead and created Africa's largest refugee crisis in years.
Kiir's administration has been marked by the departures of several high-profile officials who accused their former colleagues of blocking the path to peace and profiting from the conflict.
The ruling party said even the opposition had been invited to its conference this week, but the opposition refused. The warring sides are expected to attend the next round of peace talks mediated by a regional bloc in neighboring Ethiopia starting May 17.
"There comes a point where leaders must rise above challenges and turn crisis into opportunity," Kiir told the gathering.
Uganda's president warned people not to make the mistake of pushing South Sudan into a vacuum by asking Kiir to step down. He urged South Sudan's leaders to embrace dialogue "whatever the political differences."
Museveni, whose country has taken in well over 1 million refugees fleeing South Sudan's fighting, also called on members of Kiir's administration to show restraint among themselves, saying that "force is reserved for the enemy."
Conflict experts said they viewed the party's attempt at unification with skepticism.
"It's a smoke screen and a public relations recovery exercise. It's futile because when they come together they loot and when they disagree they kill," Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba, told The Associated Press.