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Obama pushes for end to South Sudan crisis

Published 27/07/2015

US President Barack Obama, left, and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome shake hands during a meeting at the National Palace. (AP)
US President Barack Obama, left, and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome shake hands during a meeting at the National Palace. (AP)

US President Barack Obama has launched a personal push for peace in South Sudan.

Mr Obama met with African leaders for urgent talks in neighbouring Ethiopia aimed at keeping the world's newest nation from collapsing amid civil war.

"The possibilities of renewed conflict in a region that has been torn by conflict for so long, and has resulted in so many deaths, is something that requires urgent attention from all of us," he said. "We don't have a lot of time to wait."

The talks on South Sudan came during Mr Obama's visit to Ethiopia, his second stop on a trip to East Africa. He urged Ethiopia's leaders to curb crackdowns on press freedoms and political opposition, warning that failure to do so could upend economic progress in a country seeking to move past years of poverty and famine.

"When all voices are being heard, when people know they are being included in the political process, that makes a country more successful," Obama said during a news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Ethiopia has been among the most active countries in East Africa seeking to end the crisis in South Sudan, whose warring factions face an August 17 deadline to accept a regional peace and power-sharing deal.

South Sudan was thrown into conflict in December 2013 by a clash between forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, and president Salva Kiir, a Dinka. The fighting has spurred a humanitarian crisis that threatens the country's survival just four years after its inception.

US officials have expressed pessimism about the prospects for a deal, saying the two sides are indifferent to the plight of the South Sudanese people. Even as they await the outcome of the peace process, officials say the US is eyeing additional economic sanctions and perhaps an arms embargo to ramp up pressure on the warring factions.

Mr Obama and Hailemariam were joined in the talks on South Sudan by the presidents of Kenya and Uganda, the chair of the African Union and Sudan's foreign minister. There were no plans for Mr Obama or other US officials to meet with representatives of South Sudan.

Monday's meeting focused on what must happen between now and August 17 in the absence of an agreement. In addition to possible sanctions, one participant at the meeting raised the possibility of deploying regional forces to restore peace, administration officials said after the meeting.

Such a force also could be used to help enforce an agreement should one be reached in time.

Mr Obama arrived in Ethiopia late on Sunday following a visit to Kenya, his father's homeland. The president is seen in Kenya as a local son and his first visit as president was treated as a homecoming.

In Ethiopia, too, Obama's visit has been eagerly anticipated. Despite a driving rain, crowds gathered to greet him as he arrived for the first-ever visit to Ethiopia by a sitting American president.

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