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African leaders in South Sudan for peace talks

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 26, 2013 at 7:19 a.m.

JUBA, South Sudan — Fighting persisted in parts of South Sudan's oil-producing region as African leaders Thursday tried to mediate between the country's president and the political rivals he accuses of attempting a coup that the government insists sparked violence threatening to destroy the world's newest country.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn met with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Thursday. A senior government official warned that Riek Machar, the former vice president who now allegedly commands renegade forces in the states of Unity and Upper Nile, had to renounce rebellion before the government could negotiate with him.

Michael Makuei Leuth, South Sudan's information minister, said the government has not yet established formal contact with Machar.

"For us, we are not talking with him," Leuth said, referring to Machar, whose whereabouts remain unknown. It was not possible to reach Machar, as his known phone numbers were switched off.

Government troops are trying to retake control of Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, from forces loyal to Machar. There was also reported fighting in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, according to Lueth. Upper Nile and Unity comprise the country's key oil-producing region, raising fears unrest there could cut off the country's economic lifeblood.

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