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South Sudan Wants New Site for Peace Talks

FILE - Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in Juba, South Sudan, April 29, 2016.

South Sudan's government says it wants a planned meeting between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to take place outside the countries of the East Africa bloc IGAD.

Kiir and Machar were expected to meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 20. But, speaking to reporters Friday, government spokesman Michael Makuei suggested South Africa as the site for the meeting.

Machar, who is Kiir's former deputy, has lived in exile in South Africa since fleeing South Sudan in 2016, after the collapse of a peace agreement between the government and Machar's faction, known as the SPLM-IO.

Makuei said there were "competing interests" among IGAD member states Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia, all of which have offered to host a Kiir-Machar meeting. "It seems that there is some sort of undeclared competition," he said.

Makuei said South Sudan's government now preferred to have Kiir travel to South Africa to meet with Machar.

"The best thing is to hold it in a neutral ground, so that none of these three [countries] takes it for anything other than a neutral place," he said.

IGAD still involved

Makuei said any meeting between the two leaders would still be organized under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, even if South Africa hosted it.

Mabior Garang, head of communications for the SPLM-IO, was not available to comment on the government's suggestion.

Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, the faction's deputy military spokesman, said, "We [are] only aware of the IGAD process or the invitation given to us by the prime minister of Ethiopia, that the face-to-face meeting will happen in Addis Ababa. Anything about South Africa or any other place, we are not aware about it."

Gabriel said Machar was preparing to arrive in Addis Ababa for the June 20 meeting with Kiir.

South Sudan's conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between Kiir and Machar. The civil war has displaced more than 4 million South Sudanese.