South Sudan’s government and rebels are set for New Year’s Day peace talks in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to thrash out a ceasefire to end weeks of bloodletting in the world’s newest state.
Both sides agreed to a ceasefire on Tuesday, mediators said, but fighting between government troops and fighters loyal to former vice president, Riek Machar raged in Bor, the capital of the vast Jonglei state.
“I’m worried that the continued fighting in Bor might scupper the start of these talks,” said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, who is chairman of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) bloc that is mediating the talks.
“Hopefully both delegations will arrive tomorrow [Wednesday], start the talks and settle this problem once and for all,” Adhanom told Reuters news agency by phone from Addis Ababa.
Western and regional powers have pushed both sides to end the fighting that has killed at least 1,000 people, cut South Sudan’s oil output and raised fears of a full-blown civil war.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from the capital Juba, said that it took a bit of pleading by United Nations officials and diplomats, to get President Salva Kiir to agree to send a delegation, because this is not what he wanted.
“He wanted a ceasefire first before he held talks with his opponent and his former vice president Riek Machar,” he said.
“So far it has been Riek Machar who has been insisting that there be no talk of a cease fire until mechanisms for monitoring that ceasefire be put in place, and proper negotiations have been done between the two parties.”
Adow said the rebels have recaptured the town of Bor.
“This happens on a day that the rebels allied to former vice president Riek Machar took the strategic and key town of Bor. They carried out a drone attack on Bor, which had been taken control of by government forces. This just last week after fierce battles there and they managed to get it at around midday,” he said.
On Tuesday, rebel spokesperson, Moses Ruai said: “Bor is under our control … we are now in Bor town.”
About 9,000 civilians are seeking refuge at the UN base in Bor.
The United Nations meanwhile warned that the situation could spiral into continued violence in the continent’s newest country.
“This can lead to a perpetual cycle of violence that can destroy the fabric of the new nation,” the UN warned in a statement.
The US special envoy to South Sudan, Donald Booth, said the commitment to send negotiators was an “important first step” towards a negotiated settlement.
The fighting has revived memories of the factionalism in the 1990s within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the group that fought Sudan’s army in the north for two decades.
The violence first erupted on December 15 when fighting broke out among a group of soldiers in the capital, Juba, but quickly spread to more than half the country.