The two figures at the center of the civil war that has ravaged South Sudan met for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday evening in the Ethiopian capital.
South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, who fled South Sudan in July 2016, went into a closed door meeting at the Ethiopian prime minister’s office.
Machar, who was greeted ahead of the meeting by Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, arrived in Addis Ababa Wednesday morning.
Kiir followed in the afternoon and was met by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The official scope of the talks is broad to build bridges between the two but analysts say the outcome remains unclear given their notoriously volatile relationship and entrenched positions.
Once comrades-in arms in the fight for independence, Kiir and Machar experienced a bitter falling out, a development that played a key part in the civil war that blights the future of the world’s youngest state.
The two warring leaders travelled to Addis at the invitation of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy, who also chairs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc that has taken the lead in thus-far fruitless peace negotiations.
Abiy “will call upon the two leaders to narrow their gap and work for the pacification of South Sudan and relieve the burden of death and uprooting of South Sudanese people,” Meles Alem, Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman, said.
IGAD heads of state are due to meet in Addis, on Thursday, hoping to get peace talks back on track.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.