South Sudan rebels, government begin talks on ceasefire

by Reutersd | Reuters
Tuesday, 7 January 2014 09:12 GMT

A South Sudan army soldier mans a machine gun, that has been mounted onto a truck, as it drives through a street in Malakal town, 497 km (308 miles) northeast of capital Juba, South Sudan, December 30, 2013. REUTERS/James Akena

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* Both sides say talks have started

* IGAD sends its envoys to Juba 

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 7 (Reuters) - South Sudanese rebels and a government delegation started peace talks on Tuesday to try to end fighting that has left the world's newest state on the brink of civil war.

The talks in neighbouring 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 told Reuters.

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 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.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Writing by Duncan Miriri,; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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