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S. Sudan clashes rage as talks stall

By Waakhe Simon Wudu in Juba | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-09 07:21

Humanitarian situation in new country continues to deteriorate

South Sudan's government and rebels were locked in fierce battles across the country on Wednesday, as peace talks taking place in neighboring Ethiopia appeared to flounder.

A rebel spokesman indicated that there would be no imminent truce in the country unless the government freed a group of top allies who were detained after the fighting began more than three week ago.

Meanwhile, military officials from both sides said that a major battle for control of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state and situated just north of the national capital, Juba, was still raging.

Fighting was also taking place in the oil-producing Upper Nile state, while the rebels said more troops previously based in Juba had defected from the government side and could launch an assault on the capital.

"Our forces are coordinating themselves," rebel spokesman Moses Ruai Lat said, adding that anti-government fighters were preparing to strike at Malakal, the Upper Nile state capital.

The spokesman for the national army, Philip Aguer, only confirmed that fighting continued to rage around Bor.

The fighting began on Dec 15 as a clash between army units loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar. The battle has escalated into war between government troops and a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders.

Thousands of people have already been killed, UN officials say, while more than 200,000 have fled their homes - many of them seeking protection from overstretched UN peacekeepers amid a wave of ethnic violence pitting members of Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer tribe.

The two sides have been holding peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but the rebel delegation signaled that the chances of an immediate truce are slim because the anti-government side wanted its detained allies freed.

"Our colleagues must be released so that they can come and participate," rebel spokesman Yohanis Musa Pauk told reporters in Addis Ababa.

"You cannot go to negotiations while there are some people being detained ... We are just waiting for the release of our detainees. When they release them, very soon we will sign the cessation of hostilities agreement," he added.

The government is currently holding 11 of Machar's allies, many of them senior figures and former ministers, but has been under pressure from IGAD - the East African regional bloc trying to broker a truce - as well as Western diplomats to release them as a goodwill gesture.

The government, however, appears to have so far resisted the demands and maintains the detainees should be put on trial for their role in what the president said was an attempted coup.

The rebel spokesman accused the government of "lying" to IGAD over the detainees by sending mixed signals, and asserted that the rebel side was acting in good faith.

"We came here for peace, not just for talks. We came here to sign an agreement," he said.

The humanitarian situation in South Sudan has continued to deteriorate.

Atrocities have been committed by both sides, and the UN has said it will investigate crimes against humanity thought to have been committed. "We've got an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe ... on top of a situation where we were already aiming to help 3.1 million in South Sudan," Toby Lanzer, United Nations aid chief for South Sudan, added.

"It is a really critical period for the country. Hostilities just have to end."

According to the latest UN figures, 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, with more than 30,000 fleeing the country altogether, mainly to neighboring Uganda.

Agence France-Presse


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