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South Sudan's Kiir, Rival Machar Meet for 3 Hours in Juba

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (R) shakes hands with opposition leader Riek Machar before their meeting in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 11, 2019.

After meeting for three hours Wednesday at South Sudan's State House, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar pledged to resolve all outstanding issues holding up the formation of a unity government in November.

The two leaders were all smiles as they shook hands and posed in front of flashing cameras outside the State House, but neither man announced any new agreements.

Left unresolved from last year’s peace deal are the number of states and their boundaries along with details over security arrangements involving opposition and government forces.

Still, President Kiir put a positive spin on things.

“Talks between us are going on well. And we will reach a deal soon, so let’s rest assured that things are going on well,” Kiir told reporters in Juba.

For his part, Machar noted that even though he is to become First Vice President once again under the terms of last year’s peace deal, he is still not a free man.

“Juba is home and I have come back to Juba even if I go away for some time. The next coming, maybe [East African regional bloc] IGAD will determine my status to be free to come and discuss more with you here. But our discussion here, we have made important progress,” said Machar.

The SPLM-in Opposition party says Machar is effectively under house arrest in his current home city, Khartoum, and IGAD said his movement was restricted when he lived in exile in South Africa.

SPLM-IO Deputy Chairman Henry Odwar said Wednesday’s talks focused on amending certain laws to come into compliance with the revitalized peace deal.

“We touched on issues of constitutional amendment, the draft that is going to be presented to the parliament and we also discussed the few security laws. We also talked about the issue of non-signatory parties,” said Odwar.

The peace deal mandates that the transitional constitution and laws that govern the national security agencies, the army and the national police service be amended by parliament ahead of the formation of a unity government.

But the country’s lawmakers are on a two-month recess that began two weeks ago. Last month, civil society activists warned that failure to amend the laws before November would affect the formation of a unity government.

Odwar said the two leaders discussed the number of states but only agreed to form another committee.

“The two principals have agreed that yes, we will have a committee and this committee will look into the IBC (Independent Boundaries Commission) report and if we reach a consensus, that will be great. If we don’t reach a consensus, then the principals will have to come together again and come up with a final statement on the number of states and boundaries,” Odwar told reporters.

Despite reaching no agreement on the unresolved issues, Information Minister Michael Makuei says Kiir and Machar are both confident a unity government will come together on time.

“When I say on time, it means on the 12th of November,” said Makuei.

It is not clear if Kiir and Machar will hold more face-to-face talks this week in Juba before Machar departs for Khartoum.