Clashing sides in South Sudan are set to open talks Wednesday in neighboring Ethiopia, in a bid to end weeks of violence that have left more than 1,000 people dead.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will mediate the negotiations between representatives for South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.
The bloodshed in the world's newest country began in mid-December when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of attempting a coup.
The United States welcomed the talks and reiterated calls for an immediate end to the fighting. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. will deny support to those who try to seize power and will "hold leaders responsible for the conduct of their forces."
The United Nations said the violence has sent tens of thousands of civilians from their homes.
Fighting continued Tuesday in the key city of Bor, where it was not clear who was in control.
Hussein Mar Nyuot, a member of the rebel delegation to the peace talks, is urging the government to free political detainees. The African Union is urging President Kiir to free the prisoners as well, and is threatening sanctions against those who incite violence.
"If you keep them in detention and you say you are going for peace, you are not giving a good gesture. So, we urge President Kiir and we are also asking the international community and members of IGAD to put pressure for the release of these detainees so that they can actually attend these reconciliation meetings in Addis Ababa or Nairobi," said Nyuot, referring to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development by its initials.
"We don't want our country to degenerate into ethnic fighting. We want it to be handled as a political issue to be handled by the government and by the opposition that is fighting. We sit down."