JUBA - South Sudanese opposition leader Riek Machar has agreed to a face-to-face meeting with President Salva Kiir, a step that could energize the lagging talks on a government for the civil war-wracked country.
In a letter dated July 8 and sent to President Kiir's security adviser, Tut Gatluak, Machar said he is ready to talk with the president as long as he can freely move about in South Sudan.
The Kiir administration invited Machar to meet with Kiir after the government and opposition groups missed a May deadline to form a transitional government of national unity. The period was extended for another six months.
In the letter viewed by VOA, Machar said he will meet Kiir to discuss the challenges of implementing pre-transition activities since recent months have passed "without substantial progress."
Norway Ambassador to South Sudan Lars Anderson said two months of the six-month extension of the pretransitional period have already come and gone with little to show.
He said the parties to last year's peace deal must implement security arrangements immediately in order to pave the way for the formation of a unity government on time.
"There shouldn't be more extensions. That is clear from the agreement they have, according to themselves. Now it's fairly predictable by November there will be another form of political crisis around that. And it is really going to be up to the parties how they manage this," Anderson told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Representatives of the various parties who sit on the National Pre-Transitional Committee have held several meetings on implementing the peace deal. Anderson said the international community wants Kiir and Machar to meet regularly to build trust and confidence among their supporters and to show they are working together to achieve peace.
"I think at this point it's not about people on the ground working together because we have also seen good working cooperation between the military with the different armed groups. So it is not about people on the ground, it is about top leadership now coming together and showing their strong commitment to this," Anderson said.
In May, shortly after the parties agreed to extend the pretransitional period, the Kiir administration pledged $100 million to fund pretransitional activities including security arrangements. It's not clear if the government has released the money it pledged.
Machar urged Kiir to "make a special request" to the Transitional Military Council in Khartoum, where he said he's being held under house arrest. He wants Sudanese authorities to transport him to Juba and back to Khartoum after the talks.
Stephen Par Kuol, SPLM-IO secretary for foreign relations, said Machar should be able to go wherever he wants once Machar arrives in South Sudan.
"We had been demanding as a party that our chairman should be set free to participate physically in peace dissemination in this process of peace implementation," Kuol told South Sudan in Focus.
Paar said the two leaders will talk about how to quickly implement critical security arrangements that are behind schedule.
CTSAMM, the body monitoring the implementation of the security arrangements, warned last week that by dragging out the pretransitional activities, the parties risk failing to establish the unity government in November. CTSAMM Chairman Desta Abiche confirmed the parties have yet to assemble and integrate their forces, a key component of the security arrangements.