As government and rebels on Friday started negotiations in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa for a ceasefire in South Sudan, fresh fighting had erupted in the Jonglei State capital, Bor.
There was heavy artillery fire around Panpandiar, a military base roughly 20km from Bor town, according to sources close to the base.
Military spokesman Col Philip Aguer said the military was advancing towards the capital in a bid to seize the town from former Vice President Riek Machar’s rebel group. “There is fighting. We are advancing now but the situation is not yet clear,” Col Aguer told Africa Review.
Ongoing battles prompted the top UN aid official in South Sudan Toby Lanzer to warn Friday that soldiers and rebels must protect civilians and aid workers, or risk worsening a situation he described as “critical”.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry confirmed that negotiations had started, adding that the regional East African bloc IGAD that is helping broker a deal. Sources suggested the rivals may not meet directly until at least Saturday. “We are participating in talks because we want peace for our people even though the rebel groups have not accepted a cessation of hostilities,” the government said in a statement late Thursday.
Thousands of people are feared to have been killed in the fighting, pitting army units loyal to President Salva Kiir against a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders nominally headed by ex-vice president Riek Machar.
Fighting erupted on December 15 when Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup in the oil-rich but impoverished nation. Machar has denied this, in turn accusing the president of conducting a violent purge of his opponents and refusing to hold.