South Sudan Peace Talks to Open in Ethiopia

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -

Negotiators from South Sudan’s two warring sides arrived Wednesday in Ethiopia for peace talks, and a U.N. official urged both forces to bring the world’s newest country “back from the brink.”

Fighting continued in Bor, a gateway city to the capital of Juba, a government official said. Bor is just 75 miles from Juba.

Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, is the center of ethnically based violence stemming from the political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and ousted Vice President Riek Machar, the rebel leader accused of mounting a failed coup attempt.

Kiir declared a state of emergency Wednesday in Jonglei and Unity, two states where rebel forces have gained the upper hand in recent fighting.

Machar said Tuesday he would send his forces from Bor to Juba, but that threat was played down by Hilde Johnson, the U.N. representative in South Sudan.

“I think we need to take quotations with pinches of salt at this point of time,” Johnson said.

“On Jan. 1, the country is at a fork in the road, but it can still be saved from further major escalation of violence,” she said.

Johnson urged Kiir and Machar to use the new talks to move toward peace, adding: “They can still pull the country back from the brink.”

The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people, the U.N. says.