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African Union Team to Visit South Sudan to Probe Rights Abuses

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, shown here addressing a news conference in Dakar, Senegal, on Feb. 25, 2012, leads the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan.

An African Union (AU) commission set up to investigate human rights abuses committed during the four-month-old conflict in South Sudan is poised to begin a visit to the young country, the AU said Tuesday.

The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS), led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, will arrive in the South Sudanese capital on Thursday for the start of its first field mission to the country that has been mired in conflict since December.

The visit comes as fresh fighting and violence against civilians are reported in South Sudan.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Monday accused opposition forces of carrying out targeted ethnic killings after they recaptured Unity state capital Bentiu from government troops last week, while in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, an armed mob attacked the U.N. base last week, killing dozens of civilians who were sheltering there.

The United Nations has called the attack on the base in Bor a war crime.

Members of AUCISS will meet with President Salva Kiir and members of his government, and with the opposition, including former vide president Riek Machar who fled into hiding when violence broke out in mid-December.

The AU has not released the full itinerary of the AUCISS team but said members will also hold talks with UNMISS head Hilde Johnson and with the commander of the presidential guard, which was reportedly involved in clashes in Juba in mid-December that touched off the conflict around the country.

Commission members will also meet with human rights, civil society and church groups during the visit, which runs through May 1.

IGAD-led peace talks to resume

The AUCISS visit will overlap with the resumption on Monday in Addis Ababa of slow-moving peace talks for South Sudan.

In the first round of peace talks, which are being led by regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, government and opposition negotiators signed a cessation of hostilities agreement -- but it has been violated repeatedly.

The second round was put on hold at the start of this month, and was due to resume this week. The resumption of the talks was pushed back until next week to give both sides more time to review proposals to end the fighting in South Sudan once and for all.