Juba — South Sudanese President Salva Kiir evoked the examples of South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Rwandan President Paul Kagame as he called on the youth of his battle-scarred country to lead the way in reconciling the nation.
"There are two African leaders who you should take their examples," Kiir said in a speech at a gathering of the youth movement of the ruling SPLM party, the first public rally he has attended since fighting broke out in mid-December.
Kiir urged South Sudanese to follow the examples of the two leaders and "reject revenge" and focus on reconciling the nation as Mandela did when he was released from prison in 1990 after being incarcerated under South Africa's apartheid regime for 27 years, and Kagame did after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
"If we want the people to be one and we want our nation to be one, we have to sit down and say, 'Let us forget those who did this and even those who killed people'," Kiir said.
He urged South Sudan's youth not to do "something bad" just because someone else had, and to lead the reconciliation effort in the young country.
"Whether you are in Jonglei, in Upper Nile, Unity State or greater Bahr el Ghazal, forget about the people that you have lost and go back to think of how to reconcile," Kiir told the rally.
"It is your duty as the youth to take this message home that we want this thing to stop," he said.
Kiir denied reports that he or his government had singled out members of Machar's Nuer ethnic group and stressed South Sudan's tradition of forgiveness.
But he had harsh words for his main adversary in the conflict that has riven the country since December, former vice president Riek Machar.
Insisting that the unrest in South Sudan was the result of a coup bid led by Machar, Kiir called him selfish, and the clashes "unfortunate" and "uncalled for."
"He chose the time because he knows this is when he will really pull back South Sudanese," said Kiir, noting that the unrest began just weeks after hundreds of foreign investors had come to Juba for an international conference, and went away "excited" by the prospect of investing in South Sudan, only to see the country engulfed in violence.
Machar and six other members of the SPLM have all denied having anything to do with an attempt to oust Kiir.
Machar and two other senior members of the SPLM, Taban Deng Gai and Alfred Lado Gore, who fled the country or went into hiding shortly after the unrest began, were removed last week from the ruling party.
The government has said it has enough evidence to bring charges of treason against the three men and four other members of the SPLM who have been in detention in Juba since the fighting broke out.
Seven other SPLM members who were detained when the clashes erupted but freed more than a month later are currently in Addis Ababa, where they are acting as a third party in talks to try to reconcile the pro- and anti-government sides in the South Sudan clashes, and open a political dialogue to bring peace to the country.