South Sudan’s warring rivals President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar will attend a retreat at the Vatican this week “to work for a future of peace”, the Holy See said.

The arch-rivals will attend “an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust,” the Vatican said in a statement, describing it as “both ecumenical and diplomatic at the same time”.

The encounter on Wednesday and Thursday between “those who in this moment have the mission and the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people” had been proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who will also attend.

Kiir left for the retreat on Tuesday, government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told journalists in Juba, adding that Machar too had already travelled from Khartoum, where he has been living in exile.

The two men last saw each other in October last year, shortly after the signing of a power-sharing deal, when Machar made a brief return to Juba for the first time since fleeing on foot in a hail of gunfire in July 2016.

Machar was Kiir’s vice president until a falling out in 2013 which kickstarted a civil war just two years after independence from Sudan.

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