South Sudan’s rebel leader Machar plans May return to Juba

A United Nations envoy who visited South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar at his exile home in Khartoum has confirmed that the latter is planning to return to Juba in May.

UN envoy David Shearer met last week with Machar to discuss plans for a transitional government that will pave the way to elections, under the terms of a peace plan signed in September.

“He told me that he is committed to coming back still at the end of May,” Shearer told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York, adding that his return will mark a “critical juncture” toward setting up the transitional government.

The peace agreement brokered by Sudan reinstates Machar as vice-president and is aimed at ending the brutal five-year war.

“There are some tricky issues still to be resolved,” said Shearer, who has been UN envoy to South Sudan since January 2017.

“But it’s an agreement that is there that we feel offers the best chance in a long while for moving South Sudan in the right direction.”

A visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to show support for the new peace effort in South Sudan had been planned for February but was pushed back to later this year when both Machar and President Salva Kiir will be in Juba, Shearer said.

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar, his former deputy, of plotting a coup.