South Sudan: Slow Start to Direct Peace Talks for South Sudan Amid Oil Concerns

South Sudan and its northern neighbor, Sudan, have discussed plans to secure oil fields amid a slow start to peace talks. South Sudan's government and rebel forces have been fighting for the past three weeks.

On a visit to former enemy territory on Monday, Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, (pictured) expressed the need for discussions to find peace.

"We have come to see what we can do to stop this war knowing all too well that armed conflict would never resolve a problem and also knowing that any problem no matter how complicated can be solved at the negotiation table," Bashir said in Juba, South Sudan's capital, reflecting on the negotiations which allowed the south to break peacefully away from the north in 2011 after more than 20 years of war in which two million people died.

His visit came as direct talks between representatives of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, held in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, got off to a slow start following days of separate negotiations with intermediaries.

Late on Monday, officials said at a news conference that both sides had agreed on rules for the talks, which would resume on Tuesday.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and about 200,000 displaced in fighting which began on December 15 between supporters of Machar and Kiir, though both sides deny sparking the violence. The fighting, which broke out due to political differences, has evolved along ethnic lines between Kiir's Dinka and Machar's Nuer groups.

Oil concerns

Sudan, which receives revenue from the oil piped through its pipelines from South Sudan, has suffered a loss of funds due to the conflict. Bashir and Kiir discussed establishing a joint force to secure the oilfields which were under threat from rebels.

China, the biggest investor in South Sudan's oilfields, on Monday called for an immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting, which has caused oil production to plummet by more than a 20 percent, as international workers including those from China evacuated conflict areas.

"China's position with regard to the situation in South Sudan is very clear," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Addis Ababa, where he was to met with both rebel and government delegations. "First, we call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and violence."

Foreign powers were also anxious at the slow pace of the peace negotiations amid continued outbursts of fighting. "The delaying tactics that we are seeing at the moment give us cause to fear that the conflicting sides have no real interest in a swift political solution," a German foreign ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

se/pfd (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

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