01 January 2014, News Wire – Peace talks were reportedly due to start later on Tuesday between rebel forces and the government of South Sudan that are likely to lead to an end to fighting, according to a report.
The discussions between representatives of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar were due to take place at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, following mediation efforts by East African leaders.
“The two sides are expected to reach an agreement on the cessation of hostilities and peaceful resolution of the current political crisis,” according to a statement from the Ethiopian government, cited on the BBC’s website.
Former South Sudan vice president Machar had earlier said he would be willing to send a delegation to the talks after claiming his forces had captured the key town of Bor, though he said he would not order his troops to stop fighting.
Anti-government forces were reported to have carried out the attack on the Jonglei state capital, near a compound for United Nations peacekeeping forces, at daybreak on Tuesday.
It came just hours before a deadline for a ceasefire deal was due to expire by the end of the same day, failing which regional ally Uganda had threatened to launch an attack against the rebels.
The UN believes the attackers were a mix of mutinous soldiers loyal to Machar and an ethnic militia dubbed the “white army” – known for putting white ash onto their bodies as a kind of war-paint – though the rebel leader denies any links with the latter.
A South Sudanese army spokesman confirmed that “a big fight” had taken place but it was not immediately verified whether the town, which was retaken by government forces last week after being held briefly by rebels, had again fallen into the hands of Machar’s militia.
Machar has previously demanded the release of all his detained poiitical allies as a condition for starting peace talks.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir met with other East African leaders for talks late last week in an effort to bring stability to the country.
Fighting broke out about two weeks ago in the capital Juba and has spread to other areas in what appears to be an escalating ethnic conflict between the country’s two main tribal groups, causing hundreds of deaths and disrupting the key oil industry.
About 45,000 barrels per day of production is reported to have been hit as oil flows in Unity state have been shut in and it is feared rebels who have gained control of some wells may damage production and transport infrastructure unless a settlement is reached.
At least 1000 people are reported to have died so far in the fighting and more than 121,600 are believed to have fled their homes.
Machar, who acted as Kiir’s deputy before being sacked in July, is accused of mounting an attempted coup that has triggered the violence.
The president, a member of the Dinka tribal group, has though ruled out any power-sharing deal with Machar, who hails from the Nuer tribe.
“These men have rebelled. If you want power, you don’t rebel so that you are rewarded with the power. You go through the process,” Kiir was quoted as saying.