South Sudanese rebels shelled the northeastern town of Nasir for a second day, following an attack yesterday that the United Nations said was the worst since a truce was agreed more than two months ago.
Government forces still control of the town, which is being shelled from a “distance” by forces loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar, South Sudanese army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said in a phone interview today from the capital, Juba. The May 9 truce is “definitely” not in effect, he said.
“There’s no talk of a cease-fire on the side of the rebels,” Aguer said. “We’ve been maintaining our commitment, but such an attack indicates there’s no cease-fire.”
Fighting erupted in South Sudan in mid-December between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and Machar. Thousands of people have died in the violence and at least 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the UN.
Rebel forces began attacking Nasir yesterday and said they seized control of the town, which is about 188 kilometers (117 miles) southeast of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. Upper Nile is one of two states in South Sudan that produce oil, which the government relies upon for more than 90 percent of its budget funding.
“It is deplorable that this major attack comes at a time when intensive efforts are under way by mediators of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to convince all parties to resume the suspended peace talks in Addis Ababa,” the UN Mission in South Sudan said in an e-mailed statement. IGAD, as the seven-nation bloc is known, is helping to mediate an end to the dispute.
“It is also worrying that the attack was launched in total disrespect of the presence of” cease-fire monitors from IGAD, the UN mission said.
East African nations may sanction warring parties in South Sudan if the next round of peace talks fails to resolve the conflict, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on July 18. The U.S. and European Union have already imposed travel bans and asset freezes on military commanders from both sides. The UN Security Council said last week it’s considering sanctions.
Machar and Kiir’s delegations are willing to resume peace talks in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, that have been suspended for a month since disagreements about who should be included in them, Hailemariam told reporters in Addis Ababa.
“I feel that this is the final one,” he said. “IGAD is giving a chance to have this process to continue on, but if we fail to do so I think IGAD also will go for these kinds of measures.”