JUBA, South Sudan, April 26 (UPI) -- A former vice president-turned-rebel leader in South Sudan on Tuesday formally returned to his government post in the divided nation as part of a plan to rebuild and heal wounds inflicted by two years of intense fighting.
Riek Machar was sworn in Tuesday and returned to the presidential palace in Juba, more than two years after he fled amid rising violence. After leaving, he became a rebel leader and even reportedly plotted an overthrow of President Salva Kiir's regime.
Now, though, it appears Machar and Kiir have agreed to set aside some of their differences in an effort to rebuild their nation. A new unity government is expected to be filled out in the coming days.
Although Kiir and Machar have had their differences, on Tuesday they expressed hope that by working together they can begin rebuilding parts of the civil war-torn nation, which is just five years old.
President Kiir referred to Machar as "my brother" multiple times in remarks Tuesday and expressed hope for a long-term peace.
"It is nearly 28 months since my brother Dr. Riek Machar left Juba in the aftermath of the incident of the 15th of December 2013," Kiir said. "I am very happy to welcome and warmly receive my brother Dr. Riek Machar Teny to Juba to be with us, and I have no doubt that his return to Juba today marks the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to South Sudan."
Machar's return is part of an internationally-brokered peace agreement that was reached last August. Delays, though, have postponed its implementation.
"Unfortunately, several deadlines for its implementation have been missed, and as a result our people as well as the international community lost confidence in our commitment to implement the agreement in letter and in spirit," Kiir said. "Now that Dr. Riek has come and has taken the oath of office as the First Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan we will immediately proceed to establish the Transitional Government of National Unity.
"I take this opportunity to apologize to the international community for the delay in implemantation of this agreement."
Machar's departure three years ago marked the beginning of increased fighting in South Sudan, which declared its independence in 2011. President Kiir acknowledged Tuesday that they have a ways to go, but said he hopes the former vice president's return is the first step toward lasting peace.
"We acknowledge that there are unresolved issues related to the agreement, but I promise we will resolve those matters amicably," Kiir said.