South Sudanese opposition groups tried to forge a united front on Monday ahead of an expected resumption of peace talks, in the first such meeting since the start of their country’s civil war nearly four years ago, attendees told Reuters.
South Sudan’s civil war, triggered by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, plunged parts of the world’s youngest nation into famine and forced a third of the population – some four million people – to flee.
Representatives of South Sudan’s many armed and unarmed opposition groups met in the Kenyan town Nyahururu, said Kosti Manibe, a former government minister who was briefly jailed and represents a group of ex-political prisoners.
“I call it like-minded groups opposed to the policy the regime of Salva in Juba is pursuing,” Manibe said.
The gathering, expected to last three days, comes after diplomats from the regional bloc IGAD held talks with Kiir in Juba at the weekend to press government to participate in peace talks planned for December.
“The opposition is speaking in a cacophony of voices. There is a need to harmonise these voices,” said Majak D‘Agoot, another member of the former prisoner group.
Manibe said Kenya’s government had “graciously allowed” the opposition groups to meet in their country, without elaborating.
Kenyan foreign affairs ministry spokesman Edwin Limo said he was not aware of the meeting.
The United Nations says South Sudan’s civil war has resulted in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.
A Western-backed peace deal between Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar collapsed last year, spawning the creation of new armed and political groups opposing the government.
Machar’s SPLA-IO rebel group, the country’s largest which still controls swathes of territory in the south and north-east, declined to attend the Nyahururu meeting, according to Nathaniel Oyet, a senior member of the group, saying it may distract from the December talks
Oyet also cited security concerns in Kenya where SPLA-IO officials have disappeared in the last year, including Machar’s spokesman, arrested and deported to Juba in 2016.
Among those attending Monday’s meeting were representatives of former army general Thomas Cirillo, who is waging an insurgency in south South Sudan and other former government officials Lam Akol, Gabriel Changson and Joseph Bakosoro, all of who are in exile.
South Sudanese government officials were unavailable to comment on the Kenya meeting.