Rebels in South Sudan have seized some oil wells and captured half of the capital of the main oil-producing region, the government and army said on Thursday as African leaders held talks in Juba to avert a potential civil war.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn met South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in the capital Juba in an attempt to end nearly two weeks of fighting in the world's newest country.
"South Sudan is a young nation that should be spared unnecessary distractions in its development agenda. Take wisdom and stop the loss of innocent lives," Kenyatta said in a statement.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom called the talks "very constructive and very candid".
"The issues that we discussed were among others the cessation of hostilities, an immediate start of dialogue to settle the issue politically, the detainees who were suspects of the coup, and the fourth is the humanitarian crisis," he said.
But any words of reconciliation in Juba, however, were lost on the rebels who were escalating their attacks on Thursday.
Earlier, army spokesman Philip Aguer said troops loyal to President Salva Kiir were battling forces allied to former vice president Riek Machar inside the town of Malakal, capital of the major oil-producing Upper Nile state.
"They control half of the town and government troops control the other half. They will be defeated soon," Aguer told Reuters. No comment was available from the rebel side.
Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said the rebels had captured oil wells in Unity state, where production was shut down earlier this week due to fighting.
"Some oil wells are in the hands of rebel soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar and we fear they may cause damage to the facilities and the environment," Dau said.
Reports of mass killings
World leaders have urged the country's leaders to stop the violence in which thousands are feared killed. The United States, Norway and Ethiopia are leading efforts to open peace talks between Kiir and his political rivals.
Kiir said in a Christmas address that he is willing to “dialogue” with all his opponents.
The United Nations is investigating reports of mass killings since violence began spreading across South Sudan after a fight among the presidential guards on Dec. 15, pitting soldiers from Kiir's Dinka ethnic group against those from Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.
South Sudan's top UN humanitarian official, Toby Lanzer, said on Monday that he believes the death toll has surpassed 1,000.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-26