NAIROBI — Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom, said Wednesday that the leaders of six East African countries will travel to South Sudan on Thursday to try to advance peace talks and end 10 days of violence.
Secretary of State John Kerry has called on South Sudanese leaders to stop fighting and begin mediated political talks, the State Department said. A Kerry envoy, Donald Booth, was in Juba, South Sudan, to get a commitment from President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader, former vice president Riek Machar.
The Obama administration also has stepped up preparations for a possible evacuation of US diplomatic personnel from South Sudan by positioning about 150 Marines in nearby Djibouti.
Kiir and Machar have both expressed a willingness to begin talks on a cease-fire. Machar has said that, as a precondition, he wants the government to free political detainees arrested in the aftermath of the Dec. 15 attempted coup.
Machar, who is being sought by government security forces, also has demanded that Kiir step down because of his failure to unite the country.
The African Union said the South Sudanese authorities should consider releasing the detainees to spur the talks. Both Ethiopia and Kenya have offered to host the talks but no timetable has been set.
Forces loyal to Machar said they are in control of two states, Jonlei and Unity, the center of the country’s oil production.
When it seceded from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan took an area responsible for three-quarters of the country’s oil output.
In a separate development Wednesday, the UN Mission in South Sudan said in a Twitter message that it was not yet in a position to confirm the existence of a mass grave in Bentiu. But the mission said it was “deeply concerned over reports of extrajudicial killings in Juba and other locations in South Sudan and is investigating reports of such atrocities.”
The Berlin office of the UN commissioner for human rights had said Tuesday that a grave of 75 bodies was found in Bentiu, Unity State. Later the office revised that figure to 34 bodies and 75 people feared missing.
The UN Security Council voted this week to nearly double its peacekeeping force in South Sudan.