South Sudan president Kiir heads to Ethiopia for peace talks with rebel leader

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit reacts upon arrival at Khartoum airport, Sudan November 1,2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir headed to Ethiopia on Wednesday for talks with rebel leader Riek Machar on ending a five-year civil war in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.

The talks would be the first meeting between the two since a peace deal between the government and Machar’s rebel group fell apart in August 2016.

“IGAD has decided to call face-to-face dialogue between our president and Riek Machar,” Awut Deng, a senior member of Kiir’s delegation, said before departing the South Sudanese capital Juba. IGAD is an East African regional bloc.

“We expect the face-to-face meeting between our president and Riek Machar will be today,” she said.

The war started in late 2013 when troops loyal to Machar, the former vice president, rebelled against the government of the newly independent country. The political dispute reopened ethnic fault lines and the United Nations says all sides have committed atrocities against civilians.

Machar fled South Sudan and has been under house arrest in South Africa since 2016. Rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said on Wednesday he has arrived in Addis Ababa.

An Ethiopian government official said Machar would meet Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed before his talks with Kiir on Wednesday.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta will on Thursday join other regional leaders at the peace talks, a presidential statement said. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement he commended IGAD for reviving the peace effort.

Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Omar Mohammed and Matthew Mpoke Bigg