Voice of America (Washington, DC)

South Sudan Peace Talks Begin in Ethiopia

Representatives from the South Sudanese government and a rebel force fighting to overthrow it have opened peace talks in Ethiopia.

Regional mediators hope to broker a cease-fire to end three weeks of conflict that has pushed the world's newest country toward civil war.

Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry said the talks began Friday, and added that the East African regional bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is committed to help in any way possible.

Fighting between the forces of President Salva Kiir and ex-vice president Riek Machar has so far left more than 1,000 people dead.

Both sides continue to fight as the talks get underway. Government troops are said to be moving in on Bor, the rebel-held Jonglei state capital, nearly 200 kilometers north of Juba. Meanwhile, rebel commanders have warned that they are preparing to advance from Bor to Juba.

The U.S. embassy in Juba has ordered the evacuation of more staff due to the "deteriorating security situation" in South Sudan.

An embassy statement urged all U.S. citizens to leave, saying there will be a State Department-arranged evacuation flight on Friday.

The United Nations refugee agency said Thursday more than 200,000 people have been internally displaced since violence erupted in mid-December.

U.N. spokesman Daniel MacIsaac told VOA that more than 10,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries.

Bloodshed in the world's newest country erupted when renegade soldiers attacked a South Sudanese army headquarters on December 15. President Kiir accused former vice president Machar of a coup attempt.

Machar told VOA Wednesday that President Kiir is responsible for much of the unrest, and that peace cannot be achieved under the president's leadership.

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

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.

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