Rebel leader Machar set for big return as US says South Sudan joint govt up in January

But President Salva Kiir’s side whittles down ‘frightening’ rivals team from nearly 600 to just 30 as wary Washington threatens to cut aid.

SOUTH Sudan’s government and rebels have recommitted in writing to forming a transitional government in January that will help to end two years of civil war in the oil producing nation, a senior US official said.

A key stumbling block in creating a unity government will be removed in days with the arrival of an advance team of rebels in the capital, Juba, US Special Envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Thursday.

A peace deal agreed by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in August initially envisioned a 30-month interim administration in place by late November, leading to elections.

The rebel team expected to arrive as early as Friday in the capital would prepare for Machar to come back to Juba for the first time since the fighting began and assume the role of deputy leader to Kiir in the unity government.

The US is the country’s biggest donor, with the State Department and USAID aid agency having provided $1.3 billion since the conflict broke out. The future of US assistance in South Sudan hinges on respect for peace, said Booth.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan and over two million forced from their homes during the civil war. Both sides have accused each other of repeatedly violating cease-fire agreements.

The US ambassador in South Sudan had meetings on Thursday in Juba with the government and opposition figures to “work out the details” of the rebel group’s plan to return, Booth said. The United Nations will be requested at a December 15 meeting to authorise additional peacekeepers and police officers for the UN force in South Sudan, said Booth.

South Sudan’s government on Thursday said it’ll only allow 30 rebel representatives to return to Juba, about 20 times fewer than the number insurgents are proposing.

The “huge number” the rebels are insisting on is “rather frightening” and is raising security concerns, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters in the capital.

—Bloomberg. With assistance from Okech Francis

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