A delegation representing Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki has visited Juba to meet with the leadership of the ruling SPLA-Juba faction, one of several parties vying for control of the country.
This visit comes amid cool relations between SPLA-Juba and Ethiopia, one of the guarantors of a peace deal that SPLA-Juba says was ‘imposed’ on it by outside powers.
Eritrea’s delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Adviser Yemane Ghebreab met on Monday in Juba with General Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Eritrean Ministry of Information announced Tuesday.
Kiir, whose term as president expired in 2015 but was renewed by a controversial vote of parliament, said that he is ready to “continue and develop cooperation with Eritrea,” according to the information ministry.
He briefed the delegation on developments in South Sudan and reaffirmed his government’s determination to restore peace and “national cohesion” and to rebuild the economy.
For its part, the Eritrean delegation conveyed to Kiir a message from President Isaias Afwerki expressing Eritrea’s “solidarity and support for the people and government of South Sudan.”
The visit points to cooling relations between Juba and Addis Ababa and comes after a number of other signs of a chill. Among these, Addis Ababa has recently begun hosting defected SPLA deputy chief of staff Gen. Thomas Cirilo, who has announced the formation of a new rebel group from exile.
Additionally, Juba has recently boosted its relations with Egypt, seen by some as a geopolitical foe of Ethiopia over the building of the Grand Renaissance Dam. Kiir visited Cairo in January and solicited support for his war efforts. Last month an Egyptian military plane landed in Juba to deliver “medical supplies” to Kiir’s forces. In interviews with The Messenger last month, SPLA-Juba officials confirmed the growing partnership with Cairo while denying that it was aimed at Ethiopia.
Relations with Ethiopia have also been strained by deadly cross-border raids by Juba-armed militia belonging to the Murle tribe. Ethiopian envoys have been seeking to secure the return of Ethiopian Nuer children abducted in these raids.
In the meantime, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and the delegation also met Taban Deng Gai, leader of a breakaway group of the SPLA-IO faction, which is now aligned with Kiir’s SPLA-Juba. Eritrea’s information ministry says the two discussed “priority areas for bilateral cooperation.”
Afwerki’s envoys also met with the Eritrean community in Juba and apprised them about developments in Eritrea. The delegation is expected to spend four days in South Sudan in total.