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S. Sudan rivals return to peace table only hours from deadline

Samir Bon / Zacharias Abubeker, AFP | Archival images show South Sudan President Salva Kiir (L), and former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir arrived in Ethiopia Sunday for peace talks aimed at brokering an end to civil war, reversing an earlier decision as international threats of possible sanctions mount.

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However Kiir, who said he had been "compelled" to join the talks alongside rebel leaders and regional presidents, warned it would not be possible to sign a lasting or full peace deal until all opposition factions could join the agreement.

"A peace that cannot be sustained cannot be signed," Kiir said, before leaving Juba.

"You should sign something that you will enjoy. If it is signed today and then tomorrow we go back to war, then what have we achieved?"

South Sudan's government and rebels are under intense diplomatic pressure to sign a deal by a Monday deadline to end a 20-month civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.

Kiir's arch-rival, rebel chief Riek Machar, has not appeared publicly in Addis Ababa but multiple sources said he had been in the Ethiopian capital for several days.

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.

"Even if I am not happy, I must show my face because if I don't go, negative forces will take me as the one against the peace that was going to be signed," Kiir added.

Not afraid of sanctions

On Sunday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has sent troops into South Sudan to back Kiir, held talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy 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.

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, but South Sudan's Cabinet Minister Elia Lomuro said such threats were not helpful.

"We are not afraid of sanctions, this country belongs to us, the peace that we are talking belongs to us not to them," Lomuro said.

Britain's minister for Africa, Grant Shapps, warned on Friday of possible "targeted sanctions" and an arms embargo if no deal is made.

Marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, the war has been characterised by ethnic massacres and rape. Recent attacks have included castration, burning people alive and tying children together before slitting their throats.

More than 70 percent of the country's 12 million people need aid, while 2.2 million people have fled their homes, the UN says, with areas on the brink of famine.

During previous peace talks held in luxury Ethiopian hotels, Kiir, Machar and their entourages have run up millions of dollars in expenses while failing to sign a single lasting agreement.

At least seven ceasefires have been agreed and then broken within days, if not hours.

(AFP)

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