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Critical South Sudan talks begin in hopes of halting descent 'into collapse'

Critical South Sudan talks begin in hopes of halting descent 'into collapse'
Monday, January 6, 2014 - 6:17pm

(CNN) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in neighboring South Sudan on Monday for talks on unrest in the latter nation that has left hundreds dead.

He flew into the airport in the capital of Juba before heading to the presidential palace for talks with his South Sudan counterpart, President Salva Kiir.

The two later held a joint press conference in which al-Bashir stressed readiness to support South Sudan, according to the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA).

Al-Bashir's visit comes as rival parties in the South Sudan power struggle work to find a solution to the violence.

Meanwhile, talks between South Sudan's government and rebels began Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Those negotiations were delayed last week.

"The two delegations appreciated the gravity of the situation and the need and urgency of resolving the crisis in South Sudan. They reminded themselves of the long-drawn liberation struggle that culminated in the independence of their country. They regretted the unfortunate situation which the current conflict has brought," read a statement from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African trade bloc that has been helping to mediate between the parties.

Talks are expected to pick up again on Tuesday.

The negotiations "come not a moment too soon," African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a prepared statement.

"Not a single day can be lost in the search for peace in South Sudan. Stopping the fighting in South Sudan is not only a humanitarian imperative but also a strategic necessity, in order to halt the rapid descent of Africa's newest nation into collapse."

South Sudan erupted in violence on December 15 when rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar tried to stage a coup.

Since then, militia members loyal to the ousted leader have battled government forces. Violence quickly spread with reports of mass killings emerging nationwide.

As teams from both sides are negotiating, fighting rages.

Three weeks of fighting have left more than 1,000 people dead and forced 200,000 from their homes, officials say.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war, making it the world's youngest nation.

Despite the split, al-Bashir has a stake in the talks.

Though South Sudan and Sudan divorced, they still have unresolved oil issues.

Prolonged fighting has cut South Sudan's oil output, affecting both economies.

-- CNN's Samira Said and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

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