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S Sudan leader says talks possible

As talk of dialogue begins, four soldiers are wounded as US military aircraft is hit by fire from unknown forces.

Last updated: 21 Dec 2013 17:13
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The government of South Sudan has said it is prepared to open dialogue "with any rebel group" as violence in the country escalates.

South Sudan's Foreign Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told Al Jazeera on Saturday, "our president agreed yes indeed he is willing for talks with the main group. Why would the government not talk to people who were a part of the struggle?"

Meanwhile, two US military aircraft responding to the outbreak of violence in South Sudan were hit by incoming fire, wounding four US service members, officials said on Saturday.

The Pentagon said the aircraft were heading to Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei to evacuate American citizens from the scene of some of the nation's worst violence over the last week.

The latest developments comes a day after the president of South Sudan implored his countrymen to turn away from ethnic hatred and said that "the long arm of the law" would find those who have killed during a week of violence.

Salva Kiir's warning came as the UN said 20 people from the ethnic Dinka group were feared killed during an attack by thousands of armed youths from a different ethnic group on a UN peacekeeping base in Jonglei state

The ethnic Lou Nuer youths overran the UN base in Akobo on Thursday, killing two Indian peacekeepers and fleeing with arms, ammunition and other supplies, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said in a statement.

The Dinka civilians killed had sought refuge at the base.

Foreigners leave

Choul Laam, chief of staff for the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Secretary General, talks about the prospect of more violence.

The president met with foreign ministers from neighbouring states, including Kenya and Ethiopia, who flew into Juba, the capital, to help calm tensions after a week of ethnic strife that is estimated to have killed hundreds.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said on Friday that he had called South Sudan's president on Thursday night and urged him to protect all citizens and to work towards reconciliation.

The United Nations says that 35,000 people continued to seek refuge at UN bases in three locations across the country, including 20,000 at two bases in the capital.

Hundreds of foreigners, including aid workers, have hurriedly left South Sudan this week at warnings from foreign embassies concerned about the possibility of out-of-control violence.

Forty-five US troops were dispatched to Juba earlier this week to protect US citizens and property.

Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, earlier this week said an attempted coup had triggered the violence, and the blame was placed on fired Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer. But officials have since said a fight between Dinka and Nuer members of the presidential guard triggered the violence.

Army defection

One of the most worrying bouts of violence this week was in Unity state, where much of South Sudan's oil is located. Armed opposition groups appeared to be in control of some oil fields in the state, the International Crisis Group told the AP news agency.

South Sudan's army commander, James Koang from division 4, defected and joined the rebellion in Unity state on Saturday.

The country's oil fields have historically been a target for rebel movements.

"The potential for oil wealth to exacerbate the current power struggle should not be underestimated," Emma Vickers of Global Witness said on Friday.

"If rebel forces were to capture the oil fields, they could effectively hold the government to ransom."

South Sudan gets nearly 99 percent of its government budget from oil revenues.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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