The United Nations peacekeeping mission has called on South Sudan to ensure crucial efforts to end the violence as it starts a new year.

This comes after the Government of South Sudan and rebels are in Ethiopia for peace talks.

“We call for both parties to use this first day of the new year to take a decisive step for peace,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Hilde Johnson, told journalists in the South Sudanese capital, Juba on New Year.

“We want to make this day, the day that the fighting stopped.”

The UN urges the both sides to make efforts in ending the violence which has left more than 190,000 people displaced and many killed.

Representatives of President Salva Kiir and former deputy president Riek Machar are to meet later in the day in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, according to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African bloc that is mediating the talks.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyes says the delegations were expected to arrive “this afternoon”.

Cessation of hostilities, opening humanitarian corridors, the issue of political prisoners, and protection of civilians will form the main agenda of the talks.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said Ms. Johnson, who also heads the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

She added that negotiations in Addis need to be accompanied by a deeper process that focuses on national reconciliation, and reconciliation between the communities which have not healed since South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.

“The country is at a crossroads. It’s at the fork in the road,” Ms. Johnson said. “But it can still be saved from further major escalations of violence. It is up to the leaders of this country and the two parties.”

Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said the talks would focus on “monitoring mechanisms for the ceasefire”.

According to one of the negotiators Gen (Rtd) Lazarus Sumbeiywo the talks could hit a deadlock as Machar’s forces have defied calls for ceasefire and are headed for Juba from Bor.

The three-week-civil war started on 15 December when President Salva Kiir said soldiers loyal to Mr. Machar, dismissed from office in July, launched an attempted coup.

Mr. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Mr. Machar to the Lou Nuer, and the conflict has been increasingly marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence.

Thousands of people are estimated to have died in the violence and some 190,000 left displaced.

Ms Johnson urges for need to do everything to prevent such a cycle of violence between the communities in South Sudan.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocities committed against innocent civilians of different communities by elements from both sides,” she added.


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