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JUBA - 14 May 2019

Machar is no longer my opponent – Kiir

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said his former deputy, also leader of the largest opposition group, is no longer his opponent, vowing to work closely with him to bring peace.

Kiir said this in a speech to open a new session of the national legislature in Juba on Tuesday.

The South Sudanese leader says he has forgiven his arch-rival Riek Machar in the spirit of their experience in Vatican City and invited him for the second time to come back to the country.

Last month, South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar turned down an invitation from President Kiir to visit Juba over security concerns.

“I have completely forgiven him and all I ask from him is to become a peace partner for he is no longer my opponent, we have agreed and then we have to work together,” Kiir said.

“In the spirit of this agreement and our experience in Rome, I once more extend my invitation to Dr Riek Machar to return home,” he added.

Kiir further said world religious leaders expect them to keep the youngest nation at peace after years of devastating civil war.

The Vatican last month brought together South Sudanese leaders for 24 hours of prayer and preaching inside the pope’s residence in an attempt to heal bitter divisions.

Kiir said peace partners can work better in rallying the people of South Sudan for peace at home. “Physical distance between us is an obstacle to peace and unnecessarily delays the implementation of the agreement,” he said.

He pointed out that the implementation of critical steps in the revitalized peace deal requires Machar’s presence in the capital Juba. "While I recognise Dr Riek’s fears and concerns, they all could not be addressed in his absence; some of these require his physical presence,” he said.

Review of NPTC

Kiir stressed the vital need for South Sudan’s political leaders to make the necessary compromise for peace, emphasizing the need to review the National Pre-Transitional Committee (NPTC), one of the bodies established to help implement the peace deal.

“I will in consultation with our partners review the NPTC and if we do anything to make it work better, I will,” he said.

Peace deal extension

Kiir said that a six-month delay agreed with opposition leaders for the formation of a transitional government was not enough time to resolve pending issues.

The South Sudanese leader further said his former vice president Riek Machar had pushed for the delay of the peace deal, while he wanted to move forward with the unity government on 12 May and resolve pending issues later.

“But the suggestion of the opposition leader was accepted internationally and in the region. But what that we are going to do in six months that we failed to do in eight months?” he asked.

Kiir said rains will make the country's roads impassable. “I have accepted the extension and let us wait what will happen after six months,” he said.

Kiir admitted South Sudan was facing a critical time but pledged to do everything possible to consolidate peace and stability. “I stand for peace and stability and I completely reject war," Kiir said.

The president called for free movement of people and humanitarian agencies in the country.

President Kiir and opposition leaders failed to form a transitional government as stipulated in the peace deal by May 12. The formation of the new government was extended by six months to November.