South Sudan's opposition leader Machar to return to Juba in mid-April

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JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar said on Thursday he would return to the capital Juba on April 18 to form a transitional government with President Salva Kiir, more than two years after a feud between the two men erupted into war.

Kiir sacked Machar as vice president in 2013, exacerbating a political dispute that erupted into fighting in December that year between soldiers loyal to both men, reopening ethnic rifts between Kiir’s Dinka group and Machar’s Nuer.

Fighting was initially contained to Juba but Machar and his supporters left the capital. After that violence spread across South Sudan, killing thousands and forcing more than 2.3 million people to flee their homes.

Under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and other powers, the sides signed an initial peace deal in August and agreed to share out ministerial positions in January. The deal has broken down repeatedly.

“I am therefore confirming the date of my arrival to be April 18 and thereafter form with President Kiir the Transitional Government of National Unity and hold the Transitional National Council of Ministers,” Machar said in a letter to the head of the body monitoring the implementation of the peace deal.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan said in a statement on Wednesday it had helped Machar’s SPLM/A group transport 802 military and police officers to Juba, including two of its generals.

Machar said in February that a condition to his return to Juba and taking up his old position of vice president was the demilitarization of the capital and that some of his soldiers be allowed to return with him.

The conflict has hit hard the economy of South Sudan, an oil exporter. Its currency has weakened, inflation has spiraled and oil revenues have dropped due to falling production and falling world prices.

Reporting by Denis Dumo; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky