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South Sudan says rival forces will be merged by May 2017

18 August 2016, 16:01

Nairobi (Xinhua) -- South Sudan's government said it will complete the process of merging government and opposition troops by the end of May 2017.

First Vice President Taban Deng Gai made the remarks on Wednesday during his visit to Kenya where he briefed President Uhuru Kenyatta on the progress of the implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement.

"South Sudan President has directed that the government and Sudan People's Liberation-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO) armies to be organized as one army and this will be a big achievement for us," Gai told a media briefing in Nairobi.

Renewed fighting erupted in early July in South Sudan's capital Juba between government troops led by President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO forces loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar.

Gai said the existence of two parallel armies was what caused the latest crisis in South Sudan.

He said the government would set up cantonment sites to integrate members of the SPLM-IO forces.

It however remains unclear whether Machar and his followers will heed the directive from the government.

Machar disappeared from Juba following the July fighting. He was later replaced by Gai, his former chief peace negotiator, after Machar failed to obey a 48-hour ultimatum demanding his return to Juba.

Machar said he would only return to Juba after a regional protection force proposed by theAfrican Union was deployed to the capital city to buffer the rival factions.

Early this month, the South Sudan government agreed to the deployment of the protection force after a crucial regional summit held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa attended by East African leaders including President Kenyatta.

Gai said details on the size of the protection force and the countries that will contribute troops "will soon be discussed in Juba."

Kiir and Machar had fought a civil war which broke out in December 2013 and left tens of thousands dead. The peace agreement signed by Kiir and Machar last August under UN pressure ended the war but failed to quell the renewed violence.

- Xinhua

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