ADDIS ABABA - South Sudan's warring leaders were told on Friday to resume peace talks or face increased sanctions amid fears of a looming famine in the stricken nation.
Peace talks between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar have failed to halt seven months of fighting in the world's newest country. The latest round of negotiations stalled as both sides refused to attend.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is head of the East African group mediating talks, warned time was running out for a lasting deal.
"For every negotiation there is a limit, you cannot continue forever. When we believe it has come to a dead end then we have to do something else," he said.
The bloc last month threatened both sides with sanctions if they failed to form a transitional government and implement a ceasefire agreement by August 10.
The US and the EU have already slapped penalties on senior military officials from the government and opposition.
Hailemariam said sanctions remained a "last resort", even as patience wears thin.
"We are giving them a chance to go for a negotiated settlement and if that doesn't happen, then obviously the region will not sit tight to see the process continue as people are killed," he said.
A woman and her children displaced by fighting in South Sudan sit outside her tent at the Kule IDP camp at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia
A displaced child by fighting in South Sudan is vaccinated at a refugee registration centre at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia
A young man (L) displaced by fighting in South Sudan is processed for registration in the Kule 1 and 2 camps in Gambella
An armoured vehicle of the UN peacekeepers from the Rwandese battalion patrolling along a road as internally displaced South Sudanese people go about their daily routines in Malakal
The talks, held in luxury hotels in Addis Ababa, have already cost $17 million (12 million euros) but yielded little progress, with warring sides squabbling over the agenda and even the venue of the talks.
Violence in South Sudan has already left thousands dead and displaced 1.5 million people, and a looming famine has left aid agencies to scrambling for funding.
Hailemariam said progress had stalled due to a lack of commitment from leaders, warning that prolonging talks would only deepen the country's humanitarian crisis.
"It's the people who are suffering. (Leaders) should think about the people and come back to the negotiating table as quickly as possible," he added.
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S.Sudan leaders told to resume talks as famine looms