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South Sudan

Sudan's Bashir arrives in South Sudan amid continued fighting

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir has arrived in Juba for talks with his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir. Fighting in South Sudan between government forces and rebels continues as peace talks in Ethiopia stall.

No progress at South Sudan talks

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on Monday for a day of talks with Kiir on the three-week-old conflict wracking his country.

Bashir was greeted at Juba airport by South Sudan's Vice President James Wani Igga, before heading to the presidential palace for the meeting.

His visit comes as fighting continues in various parts of South Sudan. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing was deeply concerned by the unrest in South Sudan. China is the biggest investor in South Sudan's oil industry.

"China's position with regards to the current situation in South Sudan is very clear," Wang told a news conference in Ethiopia while on the first stop of an African tour. "First, we call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and violence."

Fighters loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, clashed in parts of Juba and in oil-rich northern states of Unity and Upper Nile on Sunday. The world's most recently established country has teetered on the brink of an all-out civil war since mid-December, when Kiir accused Machar and his followers of plotting a coup..

As the fighting went on, peace talks brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) again failed to get off the ground in the Ethiopian capital.

The chief negotiators for South Sudan's government and rebels met briefly on Sunday, but announced no clear date or time for the start for substantive peace talks in Addis Ababa. The negotiations were first scheduled to start on January 1.

"The leaders of both delegations met today. We are waiting for a briefing. Nothing is happening now," the rebels' spokesman Yohanis Musa Pouk told the AFP news agency.

South Sudan's information minister, Michael Makuei, said both sides were ready but were waiting for IGAD to announce a formal agenda for the discussions.

Both sides have said in the past that they are willing both to negotiate and to declare a ceasefire, but diplomatic progress has remained slow.

Representatives of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Kiir and of the rebel fighters issued conflicting claims to the media on Sunday, both appearing to assert that their sides were making headway.

US appeal for restraint

The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people have been killed and some 200,000 displaced by the fighting that began on December 15 and has included South Sudan in plans for 2014 humanitarian aid missions. A force of around 7,000 UN peacekeepers is currently present on the ground and awaiting further reinforcements, primarily from other parts of Africa.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on a New Year's visit to the Middle East, appealed to both sides to put national unity above their own interests.

"I think all of us feel a very personal stake in trying to avert tribal warfare and ethnic confrontation on the ground as well as any kind of resolution of political differences by force," Kerry said in Jerusalem.

The South Sudanese conflict, although portrayed by Kiir and Machar as a political struggle, has an ethnic element to it as well; Kiir and many of his followers are Dinka, while Machar is a Nuer.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan peacefully in 2011 after an overwhelming vote in favor of independence at referendum. The ballot was a part of a UN-brokered peace deal that helped end a 20-year civil war in Sudan which claimed around 2 million lives.

tj, msh/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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