Peace talks for South Sudan resumed Monday in Ethiopia, as a spokesman for the South Sudan army said nearly 180 troops from both sides in the nine-month conflict were killed in new clashes in Upper Nile state.
In remarks to open the peace talks, which are being held in Bahir Dar, around 550 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, the chief mediator for the regional bloc leading the talks, Ethiopian diplomat Seyoum Mesfin, told delegates from the government and opposition sides that they will not resolve the conflict through violence.
"If you are committed to peace, you will not find it through the barrel of the gun, but around this table," Seyoum said.
The talks are expected to focus on mapping out the details of a transitional government of national unity for South Sudan and drafting a permanent constitution, among other issues. The two sides agreed last month to a 45-day deadline to set up a transitional government. That deadline would take them into the beginning of October.
If you are committed to peace, you will not find it through the barrel of the gun, but around this table.Seyoum Mesfin, lead mediator at IGAD-led peace talks
As the talks kicked off, mopping-up operations were under way in Unity state, where opposition forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar clashed with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) last week.
SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said the bodies of 168 opposition fighters were recovered after fighting in the town of Renk and the village of Payuer, both in Upper Nile state. The rebels killed 11 SPLA soldiers in the clashes on Saturday, Aguer said.
Aguer said the rebels launched the attacks as part of their plan to seize the country's oil fields, which would give them control of South Sudan's revenue stream.
Around 80 percent of South Sudan's oil comes from Upper Nile state. Renk is near several oil fields in Upper Nile state, including the key field of Paloch.
Wendy van Amerongen, a spokeswoman for humanitarian aid organization, Medair, which provides water and sanitation services in Renk, said most residents of the town fled the fighting and the town was deserted.