Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, center, with seven released opposition leaders and Rebecca Garang. The delegation is participating in peace talks in Ethiopia., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South Sudan peace talks 'stalled', more fighting expected
Juba (AFP) - South Sudan's government said Friday that peace talks with rebels taking place in neighbouring Ethiopia have stalled because of fierce fighting over the key oil hub of Malakal.
Authorities said they were preparing to mount an offensive to recapture the town, which fell into rebel hands this week and has been left littered with corpses. The rebel attack came despite a ceasefire agreement that was signed in Addis Ababa on January 23.
South Sudan foreign ministry spokesman Mawien Makol said the government and rebel delegations in Ethiopia had so far "only had two meetings -- the opening remarks on February 11 and another one on February 18".
"They are not continuing with the meetings because of the situation in Malakal," he said, adding that the government was awaiting a report from regional peace brokers on who was to blame for the ceasefire violation.
"The government of South Sudan is outraged over the violation of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities," added Ateny Wek Ateny, a spokesman for President Salva Kiir.
"Women are being raped in broad daylight. The sick people in the hospital in Malakal have all been slaughtered simply because they belong to another ethnic group," he said, adding that government forces had made "a tactful withdrawal in Malakal to avoid bloodshed".
He asserted, however, that government troops were camped just four kilometres (around two or three miles) from the town centre and would recapture the town.
"The government will have to exercise control. So at any time we will take Malakal," Ateny said.
There have been several reports of atrocities committed in the northern town of Malakal, and a spokesman for the UN mission to South Sudan, or UNMISS, said the town was littered with bodies.
"I understand that our military colleagues in the town in Malakal went into the town yesterday and saw dozens of bodies scattered on the streets," UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras told AFP.
The unrest in South Sudan, the world's newest nation, has left thousands dead and displaced close to 900,000 people, including tens of thousands who have crammed into UN bases in fear of ethnic attacks by either President Kiir's Dinka tribe or rebel leader Riek Machar's Nuer tribe.
The conflict broke out in the capital Juba on December 15 amid tensions within the ruling party, but quickly spread across the country.