South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has agreed to attend peace talks aimed at brokering an end to civil war, reversing an earlier decision as international threats of possible sanctions mount, the government said Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, Vice-President James Wani Igga was expected to take President Kiir’s place at the talks.
However, Cabinet Minister Elia Lomuro said that while Mr Kiir would attend the talks in neighbouring Ethiopia, it would not be possible to sign a full peace deal until all rebel factions join the agreement.
“He is to go and explain to his colleagues the challenges that are now confronting the signing of the proposed signing of the compromise peace agreement,” Mr Lomuro told reporters, adding that Mr Kiir was to travel late on Sunday.
South Sudan’s government and rebels are under intense diplomatic pressure to sign a deal by August 17 to end a 20-month civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
Mr Kiir previously said he would send his deputy after complaining it was not possible to strike an effective deal because rebel forces have split.
But on Sunday he decided to go himself after consultations with regional leaders, who have already arrived in Addis Ababa for the summit meeting on Monday.
“There is hope, as long as all of us want peace,” Mr Lomuro said, after reporters asked if a deal would be signed on Monday.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Mr Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
On Tuesday, rebel generals said they had split from Machar.
“Riek Machar has already been ousted and disowned by his own army and politicians,” Mr Lomuro added.
“If we are to sign peace then we have to sign a peace with all the factions and all the groups that are fighting.”
The latest round of talks opened on August 6, mediated by the regional eight-nation bloc Igad, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the United Nations, African Union, China and the “troika” of Britain, Norway and the United States.
Diplomats have warned any failure to sign a peace deal could trigger “serious consequences” for the rival leaders.
“We expect the parties to be represented in Addis Ababa by their principals, in order to negotiate in good faith and sign an agreement,” Igad and international mediators said in a statement.
Britain’s minister for Africa, Grant Shapps, warned on Friday of possible “targeted sanctions” and an arms embargo if no deal is made.
The war has been marked by widespread atrocities on both sides.
More than 70 per cent of the country’s 12 million people need assistance, while 2.2 million people have fled their homes with areas on the brink of famine, the UN says.