The deputy chief of a South Sudanese rebel group has returned to the capital Juba as part of a peace deal, raising hopes that the opposition leader will return next week.

Alfred Ladu Gore, a former general and minister, flew into the capital's airport after more than two years fighting in the bush.

"I am very happy to be home ... our advance team came here to proclaim peace and I have come to reaffirm that peace will not be reversed," Gore said, after arriving with a delegation of around 60 people.


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Gore, though, condemned the arrest of 16 of his supporters who had been mobilising people to welcome him.

"Peace means freedom to express your mind, to gather together even if it means you disagree," he said.

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He was welcomed by Akol Paul, a senior member of the ruling party. "His arrival today signifies that indeed the war has come to an end," Paul said.

A 1,370-strong force of opposition soldiers and police also arrived in Juba over the weekend.

They are to supposed to ensure the security of rebel chief Riek Machar - named vice president in February - who is due to arrive in Juba next week.

Civil war erupted in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the country along ethnic lines.

Machar has said that he will come to Juba on April 18 to form a unity government, which would be the first time he has returned to the capital since he fled two years ago.


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The arrival of the rebels - especially Machar  - would be a major symbolic step, though many warn that the practical implementation of the peace deal will be a long and tough task.

Tensions remain high, with the rebels accusing the army of boosting its presence in the capital.

Under the peace deal, Juba is supposed to be officially demilitarised to within a 25 kilometre radius, apart from a number of units given an exception. Other troops are meant to gather in special "cantonment" sites.

The conflict, which started in December 2013, has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than two million from their homes [AP]

The United States on Monday condemned army attacks on rebel positions, "which destroyed a declared opposition cantonment site" near the town of Wau in the country's northwest.

Washington said there were "credible reports" that rebel troops had also attacked the army and civilians.

"There is no military solution to the conflicts in South Sudan," the US said . "We call on all parties to fulfil their commitments to implement the provisions of the peace agreement in full."

Source: Agencies