Burns was in Addis Ababa as the head of a U.S. delegation to the 22nd African Union Summit. On January 30, he joined representatives from China, the European Union, Norway, and the United Kingdom at a meeting with Intergovernmental Authority on Development mediation team members Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin and Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Moustafa El Dabi.
The deputy secretary described the meeting as "a very good opportunity" to reaffirm support for both the IGAD mediation efforts and the UN Mission in South Sudan's work, "especially in the face of recent threats and challenges."
Underlining the significance of the peace process to bring an end to the violent conflict that has gripped South Sudan since mid-December, Burns stated:
"The truth is that South Sudan, both its people and its leaders, have an important moment of choice before them: whether to choose to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the cessation of hostilities agreement, and to build on it an enduring end to violence, progress toward a sustainable political solution, and to ease the humanitarian suffering which all of us see across South Sudan today, or, to miss that opportunity and to allow mistrust and violence to overcome the chance that the people and leaders of South Sudan have before them today. The people of South Sudan can’t afford to miss this opportunity and none of us in the region or in the international community can afford that either."
Violence broke out in South Sudan on December 15, 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his fired deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. Fighting between forces loyal to the two men has continued since December, with the political dispute devolving into an ethnic conflict. Thousands have died and an estimated 500,000 displaced.
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