Pope Francis attends an audience with the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir at the Vatican, March 16, 2019. (Reuters)
 
Pope Francis held talks on Saturday with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir after which he voiced his keenness on visiting the country.

During the meeting in Vatican City, Francis “expressed the wish to ascertain the conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan,” a Vatican statement said.

It added that he wanted to make the trip as “a sign of closeness to the population and of encouragement for the peace process”.

In 2017, Catholic Church leaders in the country said they had expected the pope would visit the capital, Juba, in the autumn of that year. The tentative plans were scrapped because of security concerns.

About 400,000 people have been killed, and more than a third of the country’s 12 million people uprooted by the civil war - a conflict punctuated by multiple rounds of mediation followed by renewed bloodshed.

The original trip was to have lasted only one day for security reasons and the pope was to have flown in after spending a night in another African country.

More than 875,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Uganda since the war broke out.

The pope and Kiir discussed the return of refugees, the Vatican statement said.

Francis is expected to visit several African countries this year, including Madagascar.

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