The president of South Sudan and his rival rebel chief have accepted mutual responsibility for a 10-month civil war that killed thousands of people, at a meeting aimed at ending months of conflict in the central African nation.
President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president, Riek Machar, said on Monday they acknowledged “collective responsibility for the crisis in South Sudan that has taken a great toll on the lives and property of our people.”
Kiir pledged commitment to “the peaceful resolution of the crisis” in the impoverished but oil-rich nation, just three years old but riven by war.
“There is no reason for our people to suffer again after independence,” Kiir said.
It was the first time the bitter rivals had met since signing a ceasefire in August in Ethiopia, which like three previous agreements swiftly collapsed.
Political and military leaders have repeatedly broken promises made under intense international pressure, including visits to South Sudan by Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, and John Kerry, US secretary of state.
“We do not want this opportunity to go away like other opportunities before,” Machar said.
The two leaders also said the now divided Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which brought the country independence after a long war with Khartoum, should be reunited.
“A divided SPLM will automatically fragment the country along ethnic and regional fault lines,” a text signed by Kiir and Machar read, calling for “genuine and honest dialogue that puts the interest of the people and the nation above all.”
Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million have fled fighting between government troops, mutinous soldiers and ragtag militia forces divided along tribal lines.
Almost 100,000 people are sheltering in squalid UN peacekeeping bases fearing they will be killed if they leave.