South Sudan’s government and rebels are gearing up for New Year’s Day peace talks in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The talks will aim to thrash out a ceasefire to end weeks of deadly ethnic violence in the world’s newest state and follows an agreement on a cessation of hostilities by both sides on Tuesday.
Fighting between government troops and militias loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar has raged in Bor, the capital of the vast Jonglei state, in recent days.
“I’m worried that the continued fighting in Bor might scupper the start of these talks,” Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom, who is chairman of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) bloc that is mediating the talks, told Reuters news agency.
“Hopefully both delegations will arrive tomorrow (Wednesday), start the talks and settle this problem once and for all,” Adhanom said.
Western and regional powers have pushed both sides to end the fighting that has killed at least 1,000 people, cut South Sudan’s oil output and raised fears of a full-blown civil war in the heart of a fragile region. Nearly 200,000 civilians have been displaced.
It was not clear who controlled Bor on Tuesday night as rebels said they had recaptured the key town after a pre-dawn assault on government forces.
“Bor is under our control... we are now in Bor town,” rebel spokesman Moses Ruai told Agence France-Presse.
Government officials had earlier confirmed heavy fighting in the town, but the rebel claim could not be immediately verified.
“We will retake the part we lost very soon,” Bor’s mayor, Nhial Majak Nhial, told Reuters. A rebel spokesman in neighboring Unity state said the rebels had taken the town.
President Salva Kiir has accused his long-term political rival Machar, who he sacked in July, of starting the fighting in an effort to seize power.
Machar has denied the charge, but he has taken to the bush and has acknowledged leading soldiers battling the government.
There have been conflicting reports on whether Machar was in full control of the Nuer “White Army” militia fighting in Bor, though on Tuesday he told the BBC they were part of his forces.
(With AFP and Reuters)