Vatican says to host South Sudan warring rivals

VATICAN CITY – South Sudan's warring rivals President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar will attend a retreat at the Vatican on Wednesday, April 10, and Thursday, April 11, 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 on Tuesday, April 9.

The Vatican said that the encounter 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.

Participants will receive a Bible at the end of the meeting inscribed with the message "Seek that which unifies. Overcome that which divides," the Vatican added.

South Sudan was born in a blaze of optimism in 2011 after it gained independence from Sudan.

But rivalry between Kiir and Machar unleashed a civil war in 2013 characterized by brutal violence, rape and UN warnings about ethnic cleansing.

More than 380,000 people have died and 4 million people have fled their homes.

In 2015, a peace deal brought Machar back as vice president, but it fell apart the following year and he fled the country.

Machar is planning to return next month under a peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa last September, but the process has been overshadowed by fears of insecurity and lack of preparation.

Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced concern for South Sudan.

He granted an audience to Kiir last month and afterwards said he hoped to visit the country to "encourage the peace process." – Rappler.com