Nairobi:Government troops have captured a rebel stronghold and taken back control of another town, sending rebels fleeing toward the Ethiopian border, a South Sudanese military spokesman said Today.
The government offensive comes just days after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that he was ready to hold peace talks with the rebel leader, former vice president Riek Machar, after a peace deal signed in January had failed to hold.
Government troops have taken over the rebel base of Nasir, in the Upper Nile state and re-captured the capital of the oil-producing Unity state, Bentiu, from rebel control, Col. Philip Aguer said. Bentiu was taken after a day-long exchange of fire Yesterday with an unknown number of casualties, he said.
South Sudan has been rocked by violence since December, when Kiir accused Machar of staging a coup. An unknown number of people have died and 1 million people have fled their homes due to the conflict. With few residents tending crops, U.N. officials say the country faces a severe risk of famine in the months ahead.
The violence is increasingly taking on an ethnic dimension between Kiir`s Dinka community and Machar`s Nuer community.
Rebel fighters from the Nuer ethnic group took control of Bentiu mid-April and slaughtered non-Nuer civilians in the town mosque, the hospital and on streets, leaving "piles and piles" of bodies, the U.N.`s top aid official, Toby Lanzer said. The U.N. Security Council expressed "horror" at the massacre. It said council members may be willing to impose sanctions if attacks on civilians continue.
Kiir fired the country`s top military officer last month, Chief of Staff Gen. James Hoth Mai, further isolating the Nuer group politically. Mai is Nuer and his command position, which he held since 2009, was frequently cited as an example of the ethnic diversity of the government led by Kiir, an ethnic Dinka.