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South Sudan Peace Talks Set as Fighting Continues




South Sudan's army says it is advancing toward rebel-held positions ahead of the formal start of peace talks between representatives of the country's president and a rebel leader.

Government troops are battling forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. On Thursday, army chief of staff James Mai said troops were moving on the rebel-held state capital of Bor, the scene of heavy fighting this week.



"We are advancing to Bor because these people want to come to Juba [the capital] and we have had some fight, and our forces are moving toward Bor so any time we will be in Bor. Of course, we don't yet have a ceasefire and we don't want them to come and get us somewhere here, so we have to go to them."



The fighting continued as representatives of President Salva Kiir and Machar gathered in Ethiopia's capital to discuss ways to end the deadly unrest.

A VOA reporter in Addis Ababa says the start time for talks has slipped several times. She says negotiators may meet briefly on Thursday to set an agenda, then begin formal talks on Friday.

Reporter Marthe Van Der Wolf told VOA that Machar's team has been tight-lipped about their priorities.



"They are not very open. They are barely speaking to the media. And it also seems that both delegations have been told to limit their statements to the media, as it could obstruct the peace process."



The East African bloc known as IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is brokering the talks, hoping to end violence that has left more than 1,000 people dead.

The United Nations refugee agency said Thursday that more than 200,000 people have been displaced within South Sudan since political and ethnic violence erupted in mid-December.



U.N. spokesman Daniel MacIsaac tells 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 was responsible for much of the unrest. He said peace cannot be achieved under the president's leadership.

Mr. 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 the fighting.

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

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