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The Latest: South Sudan official expresses optimism at UN

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The Latest on the United Nations General Assembly (all times local):

11:15 a.m.

South Sudan's first vice president says the government is confident that peace will soon return to the world's newest nation after nearly four years of civil war.

Tabo Deng Gai told the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting on Saturday that "there will be challenges and reversals, but the big picture should be the movement" toward peace.

He said the government is "confident that soon violence and wars shall be stories of the past." But fighting between President Salva Kiir's forces and opposition troops loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar shows no signs of ending.

The conflict that began in December 2013 has killed tens of thousands and sent about 2 million people fleeing the country.

Deng Gai cited a number of factors in the government's optimism.

Those include the gradual return of refugees and internally displaced people to their villages and steps within communities "indicating direction of co-existing and living in harmony."

He also cited "strong and steady progress" on the government's commitment to address political and security issues "with the view of creating an enabling environment for dialogue."

These include releasing prisoners including journalists, reaching out to opposition figures, including all major "stakeholders" in a steering committee, and declaring a unilateral cease-fire, which Kiir did in May.