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Africa

South Sudan army closes in on rebel-held town

Government says it is poised to recapture Bor, a claim dismissed by rebels as peace talks grind on in Ethiopia.

Last updated: 08 Jan 2014 02:52
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SPLA soldiers, seen here in December before losing control of Bor [Reuters]

South Sudan's government said it was poised to recapture a key town from rebel forces, as peace talks being held in neighbouring Ethiopia appeared to be making slow progress.

"It's a matter of hours that the SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] will announce the capture of Bor," a government official told AFP early on Wednesday, with reports that government reinforcements were being poured into the battle near the state capital, 200km north of Juba.

Rebel spokesman Moses Ruai Lat, however, dismissed the claim as lies: "They are making propaganda. In Jonglei state, we have no problem in the areas we control," he asserted.

Delegates from both sides held a second day of formal talks on Tuesday at a luxury hotel in Addis Ababa, although a brief morning session was adjourned with members of the government delegation heading back to Juba for "consultations" with President Salva Kiir.

"So far, there is progress because so far now there is no disagreement," rebel spokesman Hussein Mar Nyot told AFP, adding the negotiations would resume on Wednesday.

Chief government delegate Nhial Deng Nhial said there was "a hiccup that threatens to scuttle the negotiations" - the status of detainees loyal to Kiir's rival Riek Machar, a former vice president and nominal rebel leader - but that negotiations would continue.

The talks, brokered by the East African regional bloc IGAD, are aimed at ending more than three weeks of fighting in the world's newest nation. The conflict has left thousands dead, according to UN officials, while more than 200,000 people have been displaced or have fled the country.

The fighting began on December 15 as a clash between army units loyal to President Kiir and those loyal to Machar, and has escalated into war between government troops and a loose alliance of ethnic militia forces and mutinous army commanders.

A key sticking point has been rebel and international demands that the South Sudanese government release 11 officials close to Machar so they can participate in the talks, an issue yet to be resolved.

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