South Sudan’s government is ready to sign a cease-fire with rebel forces to halt a month of fighting in Africa’s newest nation, a presidential spokesman said.
Ateny Wek Ateny, the spokesman, made the announcement today at a press conference in the capital, Juba, after the army said it captured the city of Bor from rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar. Uganda’s state-run media center said on Twitter that its army, which backs the South Sudanese government, took Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.
“The government is ready to sign a cessation of hostilities,” Ateny said. An agreement may be reached within two days, he said.
Violence erupted in South Sudan on Dec. 15 after President Salva Kiir accused Machar, whom he fired in July, of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. The dispute escalated into clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group. Negotiators from the two sides are holding peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The death toll from the fighting is approaching 10,000, according to the International Crisis Group, while the United Nations says half a million people have been forced to flee their homes, almost 84,000 of them to neighboring countries.
Both army spokesman Philip Aguer in Juba and the rebel military spokesman, Brigadier-General Lul Ruai Koang, in Addis Ababa, said there was no fighting today in Bor.
Koang said 2,000 Ugandan troops and 500 government soldier took control of Bor.
“Not even a single shot was fired in Bor,” he told reporters, saying the rebels made “a tactical retreat.”
During a four-day visit to South Sudan this week, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said he received reports of mass killings, sexual violence and the use of children in conflict. The worst affected areas were around Juba, the capital, Bor, and Bentiu, capital of oil-rich Unity state.
“What I saw was a horror. Destruction and death is everywhere in Bentiu, which has now become a ghost town,” he said in a statement yesterday. “I myself saw some 15 bodies lying on a road. The extent of the looting, burning and destruction is hard to grasp for anybody who hasn’t been there.”
Companies including China National Petroleum Corp. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) have evacuated employees from the country. South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011, has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc (BP/) data.
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