South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are flying to Ethiopia for face-to-face peace talks, a foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday, to try to bring an end to two weeks of deadly fighting that has left thousands dead.
"Both President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar are coming to Addis Ababa for talks, they are coming now and should meet today," Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told AFP.
The diplomatic move comes as rebels and government forces battled for control of the flashpoint town of Bor, re-taken by the army last week.
Rebels claimed at noon on Tuesday that they had taken Bor, although a government military spokesman said fighting was ongoing and rejected the rebel claim.
In recent days thousands have fled Bor – the state capital of the key Jonglei region – fearing an impending counter-attack by rebels.
The world's youngest nation plunged into chaos on December 15 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of mounting a coup, sparking deadly violence believed to have left thousands dead.
The violence quickly spread to half of the country's ten states, cleaving the nation along the ethnic faultline of rebel leader Riek Machar's Nuer group and President Salva Kiir's Dinka.
The ethnic militia force reportedly loyal to Machar and dubbed the "White Army", are heavily armed -- some carrying automatic rifles or spears, others armed with rocket propelled grenades. They are known for smearing white ash onto their bodies as war-paint and to ward off insects.
Fierce battles have been reported in strategic oil-producing areas and there are grim reports of massacres, rapes and killings.
Regional leaders at the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have demanded Machar hold face-to-face talks with Kiir by Tuesday, but there seems to be little chance of the deadline being met.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has warned that Machar must comply with the ceasefire deal by Tuesday or face action by regional nations. He said if Machar does not respond "we shall have to go for him," without clarifying if his threat involved military action.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-31