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

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Story highlights

NEW: The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan meet in Juba

Talks between South Sudan's government and rebels begin in Ethiopia

South Sudan erupted into violence in a December attempted coup

Violence has raged since; both sides are now holding talks to seek a resolution

CNN —  

Rival parties in the South Sudan power struggle will meet Sunday in Ethiopia for peace talks, an official with the regional group promoting the negotiations told CNN on Saturday.

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

The two later held a joint news conference with al-Bashir stressing readiness to support South Sudan, according to the official Sudan News Agency.

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 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 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 is the world’s youngest nation, having seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. However, long-standing tensions have fueled the latest unrest.

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

The fighting in Bor has led as many as 76,000 to seek sanctuary in Awerial, in neighboring Lakes state, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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

Heed the warnings: Genocide and Rwanda’s lessons for South Sudan

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

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