Voice of America (Washington, DC)

2 January 2014

South Sudan Government, Rebels Gather for Peace Talks

Negotiators from the warring sides in South Sudan are in Ethiopia for peace talks that could begin as early as Thursday.

Delegates representing President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar arrived Wednesday in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The East African bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is brokering the talks, hoping to halt weeks of violence in South Sudan that have left more than 1,000 people dead.

There were renewed clashes Wednesday between government troops and forces loyal to Machar in Bor, the capital of South Sudan's Jonglei state. In a Twitter message, the government said its forces had partially withdrawn from Bor, but there was still fighting in the suburbs.

President Kiir declared a state of emergency in Jonglei state, as well as the oil-producing Unity state, which has been one of the other main sites of the fighting.

The bloodshed in the world's newest country began in mid-December when Kiir accused his former vice president Machar of attempting a coup.

Machar told VOA's South Sudan in Focus Wednesday that President Kiir was responsible for much of the unrest, and peace can not be achieved under Kiir's leadership. (listen to the full interview below)

"He has disunited the country," said Machar. "There is a massacre in Juba, 'ethnic cleansing' in Juba. I don't think Salva Kiir can unite the people anymore."

Machar said South Sudan's citizens should join him in a bid to force the president to step down, if he does not do so voluntarily.

"I hope they will join the SPLM [ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement] and the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] in an uprising to force Salva Kiir to resign," Machar said.

Machar again called for the government to release his political allies who were jailed in the early days of the crisis. He said the political leaders need to be part of the talks in Ethiopia.

The United Nations says the violence in South Sudan has forced more than 180,000 people from their homes.

Witnesses say some of the violence is ethnically motivated, with supporters of Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and supporters of Machar, from the Nuer tribe, targeting each other because of their background.

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