Thousands of people are fleeing the oil-rich South Sudanese city of Bentiu as fears grow that government troops are launching an offensive to retake it from rebels, according to a report.
Some people are taking refuge in a United Nations base in the city, the capital of the major oil-producing Union state, the BBC reported on its website.
Government troops are said to be stationed 25 kilometres outside Bentiu, the report claims.
The city is said to be still under the control of rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, who President Salva Kiir in December accused of plotting a coup.
The discovery of this alleged plot – which Machar has denied – sparked deadly clashes in the country’s capital, Juba. Although these were swiftly quelled, the feuding spread to other states, particularly Upper Nile, Jonglei and Union.
Talks between the two sides began in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa this week but have stalled over the issue of political prisoners being held by the Juba administration.
Kiir reiterated this week that he would not release the prisoners – said to number between 10 and 12 – but the BBC reported he offered to release them if the peace talks were moved from Addis Ababa to Juba. This offer was reportedly knocked back by Machar’s side.
Kiir has recently held talks with President Omar Bashir of neighbour Sudan. The two have discussed the possibility of forming a joint force to protect South Sudan’s oilfields.
South Sudan split from Sudan in July 2011, taking with it three-quarters of the former Sudan’s oil reserves.