S.Sudan rivals in Khartoum for China-led peace talks

(L to R) Seyoum Mesfin, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Ali Karti, Wang Yi, Tedros Adhanom, Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, Taban Deng Gai and Farouk Jaktoth during a meeting on the conflict in South Sudan in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on January 12, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ebrahim Hamid) (AFP)

Khartoum (AFP) - Warring South Sudanese rivals met for Chinese-mediated talks in Khartoum on Monday, agreeing to "immediately work to stop hostilities," Sudan's foreign minister said.

The rivals also agreed to "speed up the pace of negotiations to form a transitional government," Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters after the meeting.

Karti added that the talks were initiated by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who was in Khartoum for a two-day visit.

China's role in organising the talks signals its growing interest in South Sudan, where it has said it will send combat troops as part of a UN peacekeeping force.

Representatives from South Sudanese President Salva Kiir's government and rebel factions were meeting ahead of a summit organised by East African bloc IGAD in Addis Ababa on Sunday aimed at ending the fighting.

South Sudan erupted into conflict in December 2013, when Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of trying to stage a coup, with the violence broadening into an ethnic conflict, and now includes more than 20 different armed groups.

Kiir and Machar are expected to attend the IGAD meeting on Sunday.

At the talks on Monday, Wang mediated between the rebels and the government, represented by South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

Wang said the talks were intended to "support to efforts of IGAD and the peace process".

Previous peace rounds of talks to end the conflict in South Sudan have been interrupted by fighting, but chief rebel negotiator Taban Deng told reporters that his side was "committed to what we agreed on about ceasing hostilities".

The meeting was also attended by Ethiopia's foreign minister and the IGAD chief negotiator for talks on South Sudan Seyoum Mesfin.

China has invested heavily in South Sudan's oil production, which has been badly affected by the fighting.

No overall death toll for the war has been kept, either by the government, rebels or the United Nations, although the International Crisis Group says it estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed.