Declaring Civil War Over, South Sudan President Says He's Sorry

(Bloomberg) -- South Sudanese President Salva Kiir apologized to his people for a half-decade of civil war as the African nation’s main rebel leader echoed his commitment to a new peace deal.

Insurgent chief Riek Machar temporarily returned to the capital on Wednesday to take part in peace celebrations -- his first visit to Juba since being forced to flee more than two years ago. It comes as cease-fire violations and delays cast doubt on whether the latest bid to quell a conflict that may have left as many as 400,000 dead will be successful.

“As your president, I want to apologize on behalf of all the parties for what we have caused you, our people,” Kiir told a ceremony whose attendees included the presidents of Sudan, Uganda and Somalia. “Today marks the end of the war in the republic of South Sudan. It was a complete betrayal of our people and the liberation struggle.”

The war in the oil-producing country has spurred a regional refugee crisis and brought near-economic collapse since it began in December 2013. Under deals signed with Kiir this year, Machar -- a former vice president -- will return in that role, while insurgents will be included in an expanded cabinet and parliament, due to take shape in about May.

Back From Exile

A similar attempt at forming a transitional government failed in mid-2016 and spurred some of the war’s worst violence. Machar was eventually forced into exile in South Africa.

Kiir said Wednesday he was ordering the release of two Machar aides, a spokesman and a political adviser, who were sentenced to death for alleged anti-government activities earlier this year.

Machar said his historic return to Juba showed his rebel movement is “for peace.”

“All the soldiers will be brought to work together,” he said. “All the rebels holding guns should put down the guns and come out for peace.”

The head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan, David Shearer, warned there’s “much hard work ahead” to ensure the new agreement is implemented.

‘Friends and Foes’

“The personalities who signed the agreement have in the past been former friends and foes,” he told attendees. “So the big challenge ahead is to build trust and confidence between the parties -- and between the parties and the people.”

Both government and rebel forces have been accused of atrocities during the conflict that’s driven parts of the nation to the brink of famine. Amnesty International has alleged that pro-government forces rampaged through opposition-controlled areas for more than a month this year, even as peace talks were under way.

“The time for blame as to who started it is over,” Kiir said on Wednesday.

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