South Sudanese rebels and a government delegation start face-to-face peace talks, aimed at ending fighting that has left the world’s newest state on the brink of a civil war.
The talks in neighboring Ethiopia will focus on brokering a ceasefire to halt three weeks of violence that has killed at least 1,000 people and driven 200,000 from their homes.
“We have begun our meeting on the cessation of hostilities,” a member of the government delegation said.
The fighting, often along ethnic faultlines, has pitted President Salva Kiir’s SPLA government forces against rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Mabior Garang, a member of Mr Machar’s delegation to the Addis talks, confirmed that the talks had begun.
The two sides delayed talks for several days haggling over the fate of 11 detainees held by the government in Juba. The rebels initially insisted on securing their release before negotiations started.
An Ethiopian diplomat said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional grouping of east African nations that initiated the talks, had sent its envoys to Juba to press Kiir to release the detainees.
“They’re flying today to meet Kiir. They will push for the detainees’ release,” said an Ethiopian diplomat close to the talks.
The trio of envoys is led by Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, the diplomat said.