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S.Sudan leader sets off for talks with rival

AFP , Friday 9 May 2014
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir speaks during a news conference in Juba, April 25, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

South Sudan President Salva Kiir flew out of Juba Friday for the Ethiopian capital to hold direct talks with rebel chief Riek Machar, the foreign minister said.

"President Salva Kiir is travelling today to Addis Ababa to meet the rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn," Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters, shortly before the airplane took off.

Benjamin said he hoped the meeting "would bring peace" and "allow full implementation of the ceasefire agreement", which has been in tatters ever since it was signed in January.

Machar arrived Thursday night in Addis Ababa, where the authorities had closed a major highway Friday, ahead of Kiir's arrival.

The meeting, aimed at stemming almost five months of bloodshed, comes the day after the United Nations said both sides in the country's brutal civil war have likely carried out crimes against humanity.

Warning of "countless" gross human rights violations, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said "there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both government and opposition forces."

While both leaders speak of peace, fierce fighting still rages and the UN has warned of the risk of severe famine and genocide.

"Fighting continues with little hope that civilians will see any respite from the relentless violence," the UN report read.

"Countless incidents of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law have occurred during the conflict in South Sudan," said the report, based on more than 900 interviews with victims and witnesses.

"These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, the direct targeting of civilians, often along ethnic lines, as well as ill-treatment and the destruction of property. These are crimes for which perpetrators bear individual criminal responsibility."

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