South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar came to SA seeking medical treatment, but after two weeks claimed his life was under threat and asked for protection. Picture: Goran Tomasevic /Reuters

Johannesburg – Talks to secure former South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar’s release from South Africa are currently underway.

According to a South Sudanese rebel official, the ongoing talks involve regional leaders and are aimed at securing the release from confinement of the former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), the Sudan Tribune reported on Wednesday

“Well, it is true that Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) principals are consulting on the release of our chairman, Dr Riek Machar and we believe ending his forced confinement in South Africa will bring an end to the fighting in South Sudan,” Nathaniel Perieno explained.

Perieno, the rebel-appointed governor of Imatong state, said that the process began following a meeting between Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailmariam Deselgn, and Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir in Khartoum last week.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also met with another group, which was dispatched from Addis Ababa to the Ugandan capital Kampala last week, to discuss the same issue.

Machar’s freedom was also supported by Museveni, the official further disclosed, adding that his release would impact positively on the revitalisation of the peace process in war-torn South Sudan, the world's newest country.

This would involve the armed followers of both President Salva Kiir and Machar silencing their guns, said Perieno.

“I’m optimistic about the IGAD-led revitalisation process, the sooner the better for finding amicable peace in South Sudan,” he stressed.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and over two million displaced, in South Sudan’s conflict which was triggered by political differences between Kiir, a Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer.

Following the signing of a peace agreement, Machar returned to the South Sudan capital, Juba, for the first time in April 2016 after a civil war erupted more than two years previously.

His return followed an argument with his longtime arch-rival Kiir on what weapons he and his men would be allowed to bring into the country.

He was sworn in as first vice-president to join a unity government being formed to end the conflict.

However, fighting between government and opposition forces flared again in July of 2016 and Machar fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) before finding refuge in South Africa.

The deployment of the first batch of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force (RPF), mandated by the UN Security Council at the request of IGAD, in Juba, recently has faced opposition and criticism from Kiir who has accused the UN of challenging Juba’s sovereignty and the RPF of going beyond its mandate.