JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Five South Sudanese dissident politicians who in 2013 faced accusations of mounting a failed coup have returned home from Kenya following talks mediated by African leaders, raising hopes for peace despite new fighting near the country's oil fields.
The dissidents were widely seen as allies of rebel leader Riek Machar when fighting broke out among government troops in the South Sudanese capital of Juba in December 2013. The government alleged that a plot to overthrow President Salva Kiir had been thwarted, and detained several of Machar's allies as violence spread across the country.
Under the mediation of a regional bloc, some of the dissidents were later released and sent to Kenya.
Those who returned home Monday include Deng Alor Kuol, John Luk Jok, Kosti Manibe Ngai, Cirino Hiteng and Madut Biar. They are all former Cabinet ministers who served under Kiir.
South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was among African officials who accompanied the dissidents back to Juba and told reporters their return marked "a big day for peace in South Sudan."
"We have brought five of (South Sudan's) outstanding sons back home. We have brought them home as part of the process of making sure that we restore peace once again," he said, adding that he hoped all dissidents still in exile would eventually be able to return.
Kuol said the dissidents were back home to engage in talks to reunify the ruling party and end the war in the world's youngest country.
"The economy of this country is collapsing. This country is collapsing and it is because of the war. ...The war must stop," Kuol told reporters in Juba.
Peace talks between Kiir and Machar have repeatedly collapsed, with both sides trading accusations for multiple truce violations.
Intense fighting recently broke out in the states of Upper Nile and Unity, forcing many aid workers to pull out of battle zones. Aid groups have warned of a desperate humanitarian situation as huge numbers of people hide in the bush.