Major General Paulino Matip, who heads the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), said he saw better possibilities for peace under the new first vice president than under the late former rebel leader John Garang and was ready to reopen talks on joining a national unity government.
"Salva Kiir has a vision different than that of late John Garang and has announced willingness for dialogue with the military factions and for this reason we are willing for participation in the upcoming south Sudan and national unity governments," Matip said.
"We have agreed on resumption of the south-south dialogue shortly in Nairobi to seek solutions to the standing issues between the two sides," he said adding that they would be held under the auspices of the Moi Centre for Peace in Africa.
A previous round of talks between the SSDF and the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in June and July broke down amid disagreement on a raft of issues.
But in his funeral oration for Garang, who died in a July 30 helicopter crash, Kiir expressed readiness for new talks with other southern armed groups.
Matip acknowledged that the failure of the last round of talks had poisoned the atmosphere between the two sides, which was why the SSDF had failed to attend either Garang’s triumphant return to Khartoum or his inauguration as first vice president under the peace agreement.
"At that time we were coming out of negotiations with Garang in which we did not reach agreement and for this reason we did not take part in the reception or swearing in," he said.
Matip said all issues would be up for discussion in Nairobi, including the number of SSDF militiamen who are merged with former fighters of the SPLM’s military wing in a new southern Sudan security force.
"Everything we agree upon will be for the interest of the peace process, which we vigorously support for reaching reconciliation and understanding among all southern factions and for making peace prevail all over the Sudan," he said.
"We have invited Salva Kiir to visit the SSDF-controlled areas to underscore that we have left the past behind and that are on the threshold of a new era."
The SSDF draws its support largely from among the Nuer, southern Sudan’s second-largest ethnic group, feeding off resentment over the alleged domination of the SPLM by the larger Dinka group of Kiir and Garang.
Another of the group’s commanders, Major General Al-Toam Al-Nour Daldoum, told reporters that the main stumbling blocks in the last round of talks had been the proportions of former rebels and former militiamen in the new security force and its name, but added that he was hopeful of agreement this time.
"We proposed that the future military body in the south be called the ’national army forces of south Sudan’, but no agreement was reached," Daldoum said.
"We also proposed that the military factions be given 6,000 out of the 12,000 troops allocated to the SPLM/A in the south, and also no agreement was reached.
"We are going to table these proposals in our meeting with Salva Kiir in Nairobi and we are optimistic of reaching agreement this time," he said.
January’s landmark Nairobi peace deal between the government and the SPLM reserved six percent of legislative and executive posts in the new power-sharing government for dissident southern armed groups.
The deal awarded 52 percent to the ruling National Congress, 28 percent to the SPLM and 14 percent to northern opposition parties