South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (L) and First Vice President Riek Machar exchange documents at a past function in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has called on his exiled former deputy and rebel leader Riek Machar to return to the country.

Kiir said he would guarantee Machar’s safety and protection as a citizen of the country and that the exiled leader could return and safely live in the capital, Juba.

The President’s comments were made while addressing a gathering of the recent ruling Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) meeting in Juba, where he advanced a message of reconciliation and forgiveness to his opponents.

In an audio recording published by the Holland-based Radio Tamazuj, Kiir is heard saying: “I said you bring Riek Machar to Juba here. Bring him to Juba and I will guarantee his safety, and I will protect him with the national army. If you don’t believe me, the RPF [Regional Protection Force] is here. You bring the RPF to take charge of the security of Riek Machar in Juba.

“Juba is the place where we will be meeting him and we talk to him. If you take him to Nigeria we will not get him.

“Nobody would believe that I would call for Riek to be brought, but I said bring him because Riek is a citizen of South Sudan. What we are doing here is forgiveness. Riek is a citizen of South Sudan and he will return,” he added.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, but descended into civil war in late 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 to take the position of first vice-president. He fled the country in July 2016 after heavy clashes between his forces and troops allied to President Kiir. Machar currently lives in South Africa, with talk of his return being fended off over fears that it will reignite the war back home.

Millions have been internally displaced, triggering a regional refugee crisis, and millions more have been pushed to the brink of starvation, while tens of thousands have been killed in the violence.

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