South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has agreed to send a delegation to Ethiopia for peace talks with his rival, Riek Marchar, as the strategically-important town of Bor fell into rebel hands on Tuesday
12:48PM GMT 31 Dec 2013
“We are going there,” said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s foreign minister.
The parties from Mr Marchar’s side were expected to arrive in Addis Ababa later on Tuesday.
The announcement of peace talks, after conflict broke out on December 15, came as rebels against the government of President Salva Kiir launched an attack on South Sudan‘s key town of Bor, wrestling the town from government troops.
Bor, 125 miles north of the capital Juba, has been the focus of clashes between Mr Kiir’s forces and rebel militias loyal to the former vice president, Mr Machar. It has now changed hands three times since the conflict began.
The town fell to the rebels in mid December, but was recaptured last week. Since then, residents have been bracing themselves for another attack by the anti-government forces, and in recent days thousands have fled in fear of an impending counter-attack by rebels – including an ethnic militia force dubbed the “White Army”, reported to have been marching on the dusty town for days.
Early on Tuesday morning, before Bor fell, the mayor, Nhial Majak Nhial, said: “The town is still partly in our hands and partly in the hands of the rebels.”
Michael Makuei, the information minister, said: “This morning (the rebels) advanced to the centre. The fighting is still taking place.”
A UN spokesman in Juba, Joe Contreras, said fighting started before dawn and involved tanks, rockets and small arms. He said the airstrip in Bor was also closed and that it was unclear who was in control of the town.
Thousands of people are feared to have been killed in over two weeks of fighting, pitching army units loyal to Mr Kiir against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by Mr Machar. The conflict has also fanned ethnic differences between Mr Kiir’s Dinka group and Mr Machar’s Nuer clan.
Regional leaders have demanded a ceasefire be agreed by Tuesday – a deadline that appeared to have been ignored.
The United States, which was a key backer of South Sudan’s independence struggle, has warned of a “very complicated, tenuous situation” and has sent a special envoy in a bid to kick-start negotiations.
The world’s youngest nation plunged into chaos on December 15 when Mr Kiir accused his former deputy, Mr Machar, of mounting a coup. Mr Machar in turn has accused the president of using a clash between army units as a pretext to carry out a violent purge.
Mr Kiir has described the war as “senseless”, but ruled out power sharing with the rebels.
“What power sharing? It is not an option. This man has rebelled. If you want power, you don’t rebel so that you are awarded with the power,” he said.
“You go through the process. When I came here I did not come through a military coup, I came because I was elected by the people.
“When there is fighting, you lose people. I don’t want the people of South Sudan to die in a very reckless way that has been initiated now by my colleagues.”