South Sudan rebels loyal to ousted vice-president Riek Machar have rejected a government offer for a dialogue. President Salva Kiir launched a national dialogue on Monday (22 May) when he also declared a unilateral ceasefire and vowed to release political prisoners in a bid to put an end the ongoing civil war.
A 94-member committee was sworn in on Monday "to conduct consultations as widely as possible to give the people of South Sudan (a chance) to air out their views and aspirations to restore peace in their country," Kiir was quoted by news agency AFP as saying.
Kiir also said anyone could take part in the dialogue except for Machar – currently in South Africa – although he would be welcome to send a delegation.
In response, rebels were quoted by the BBC as saying: "This is yet another campaign by the regime in Juba to derail the peace process beyond salvation."
The South Sudan conflict erupted in 2013 when Kiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, fired his deputy Machar – from the Nuer group – who then became a rebel leader.
Kiir and Machar have agreed on several peace deals – the last of which was signed in August 2015 – but have failed to control their troops, who have broken every ceasefire since 2014.
Machar fled South Sudan following deadly fighting in the capital Juba in July 2016. In an exclusive interview with IBTimes UK, the leader said last November he was ready to go home, However, he has not returned yet.
The South Sudanese government – which has been hit by a string of high-level resignations – had already agreed earlier this year to declare a unilateral ceasefire to promote peace. However, violence has continued since, amid fears ethnic cleaning might be underway in some areas of the country.
Ethnic-related violence has killed an estimated 50,000 people, amid allegations of crimes against humanity committed by both sides, including rape, torture and the use of child soldiers. The UN has several times warned the country is on the verge of a Rwanda-style genocide.
People continue to flee to neighbouring countries to escape violence, famine and a drought. The mass exodus has been deemed "Africa's worst refugee crisis". More than 2m people are internally displaced.
Earlier this month, the UN confirmed that dozens of peacekeepers part of a 4,000-strong UN contingent had arrived to South Sudan, eight months after the UN Security Council had approved the deployment.
South Sudan had initially opposed to the deployment of the troops, but later changed its position.
The additional troops will join an existing 12,500-strong peacekeeping contingent tasked with protecting civilians in South Sudan, where a civil war erupted in 2013.
At least 7,000 of the peacekeepers were originally deployed in 2011 to help "consolidate peace" in the country after it gained independence from Sudan earlier that year.