South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar was sworn in Tuesday as the country's vice president in a move to end his 28-month conflict with President Salva Kiir, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
Machar was sworn in immediately after flying to Juba, the capital, from Gambella in Ethiopia on a UN plane, according to the UN-operated Radio Miraya and journalists at the airport.
At the swearing-in ceremony in the presence of Kiir, Machar thanked the president for appointing him and called for the full implementation of the peace agreement the two had signed in August.
Machar's swearing-in was expected to open the way for the inauguration of a transitional unity government, which will draft a new constitution.
"I hope that with my return, those remaining obstacles will be resolved. ... I want peace to prevail," Machar told reporters on arrival.
The rebel leader had been expected to land a week ago, but his arrival was delayed by disagreements about the number of troops and weapons that would accompany him.
He was preceded by the rebels’ top commander Simon Gatwech Dual, who arrived in Juba on Monday. The rebels said Dual was accompanied by nearly 200 troops who would provide security for Machar.
The troops, who brought 20 machine guns and 20 rocket-propelled grenades, were due to join more than 1,300 rebel troops who had arrived in Juba earlier as part of the peace deal.
Machar had fled the capital in December 2013 when a power struggle pitting him against Kiir turned violent.
He was recently staying in Ethiopia and travelled from there to the South Sudanese border town of Pagak. He then went to Gambella to take the plane to Juba from there.
Machar already served as Kiir's vice president after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. His tenure ended when Kiir sacked him in 2013.
The conflict has displaced more than 2 million people, while more than 5 million face food insecurity, according to the UN.
The conflict has also been marked by widespread atrocities and has ignited ethnic hatred.
The UN and the United States had pressed Machar to return to Juba without delay.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner hailed Machar's return as "an important step towards formation of a transitional government of national unity and second chance to reclaim the promise that this young nation deserves."
He added that "South Sudan's leaders now need to complete formation of the transitional government, fully respect the permanent cease-fire agreement, facilitate humanitarian access to all areas of the government and begin implementing the reform agenda of the peace agreements, according to the timeline established by the parties."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed Machar's return and swearing-in and called for the immediate formation of the transitional government, said Ban spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
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