BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s foreign minister pressed his South Sudan counterpart over renewed violence in the oil-rich state, demanding an immediate ceasefire and political dialogue in the country which is heavily reliant on Chinese investment.
Government troops clashed with South Sudan rebels last week near the capital of Unity State, days after a U.N. Security Council delegation warned of sanctions if either side violated a ceasefire signed in May.
China has played an unusually active diplomatic role in South Sudan and is the biggest investor in its key oil industry.
“An immediate ceasefire is a precondition for a return to peace and stability in South Sudan,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told South Sudan Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin during a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said.
“Opening a political dialogue is the only way for South Sudan to achieve national reconciliation,” Wang added.
China hopes that both sides in the conflict can push for an inclusive political process and reach a solution as soon as possible that all sides can accept, Wang said.
The Foreign Ministry cited Benjamin as saying in response that South Sudan attached great importance to China’s suggestions and was willing to work hard to achieve an end to the violence.
The renewed violence will further strain a shaky ceasefire which was signed in May but violated by both sides since then, according to diplomats. A 60-day deadline to form an interim government lapsed on Aug. 10, though negotiations continue.
A U.N. Security Council delegation, headed by Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, this month visited South Sudan and warned President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar that both sides may face sanctions if they did not commit to the peace talks.
The United States and European Union have already slapped sanctions on commanders from both sides for violating a January ceasefire which swiftly collapsed. The United States has said it might impose further measures if the May truce was violated.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence