Government and rebel forces in South Sudan are close to reaching a cease fire, leaders for the warring sides said Saturday.
Meanwhile, the country’s army recaptured the strategically key city of Bor, defeating more than 15,000 rebel fighters, a military spokesman claimed.
Fighting in the country began on December 15th with clashes between rival troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and ex-vice president Riek Machar, but has since escalated into a major ground war.
Government and rebel delegates have been meeting in neighbouring Ethiopa for the past two weeks in an attempt to broker a peace deal and bring to an end a conflict the United Nations says has killed thousands and displaced more than half a million.
Speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, rebel negotiator Mabior de Garang said Saturday that a draft deal presented by IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), the East African bloc that is brokering the talks, had been accepted by the rebel side.
"We have seen a draft agreement for a cessation of hostilities that we could sign, but we are waiting for our counterparts (the government) to agree," he said, but cautioned that the opposition had doubts about the government's "sincerity".
"They might be trying to improve their situation on the ground militarily before we reach an agreement," he added.
Rebel negotiators are believed to have given up on earlier demands that any cessation of hostilities be tied to the immediate release of 11 key political detainees.
That sticking point and other issues would be discussed after a cease fire is signed and hostilities end, rebel negotiators have indicated.
In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said he believed a cease fire deal could be signed as early Sunday or Monday.
He confirmed the release of detainees is not part of the agreement.
Government retakes Bor
The news came as the South Sudan army said it had retaken Bor from rebel control.
The city is the capital of Jonglei State and situated 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of Juba. It has changed hands four times since the conflict in the world's youngest nation began five weeks ago.
"Today the gallant SPLA forces entered Bor, they have defeated more than 15,000 forces of Riek Machar and frustrated his plans to attack Juba," army spokesman Philip Aguer told reporters.
However, Uganda, which has deployed troops to South Sudan to support the government, said its army had been responsible for taking the city.
“It’s the Ugandan People’s Defence Force that captured Bor,” Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told Reuters. There was a lot of resistance but our force was overwhelming.”
Uganda, which for years backed the SPLA in its conflict against Sudan’s government before the south declared independence in 2011, deployed its troops to South Sudan shortly after the fighting began.
At first, it said its troops were there to help stranded Ugandans and protect key facilities. But it has since declared its role in combat.
Uganda’s involvement has raised worries of a broader conflict that draws other regional players into South Sudan, an oil-producing nation but one of the poorest in Africa.
A rebel spokesman in Addis Ababa said he could not yet confirm if Bor had been captured either by Ugandan or South Sudan government forces.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-01-18