South Sudan rebels battle over key town as talks collapse

2015-06-28 18:58
 (Ashraf Shazly, AFP)

(Ashraf Shazly, AFP)

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Juba - Warring forces in South Sudan battled on Sunday over a key northern town with both rebels and the army claiming control after the latest peace talks collapsed without progress.

Rebels said militia commander Johnson Olony, a notorious ex-government general accused of recruiting an army of child soldiers, was in "full control" of the ruined town of Malakal, the state capital of Upper Nile, but the army dismissed the claim.

Aid workers in the town confirmed heavy fighting began on Saturday. The town, the gateway to the country's last remaining major oil fields, has repeatedly changed hands in the 18-month long conflict.

Civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

Meanwhile, the latest effort to bring the rivals to a deal failed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Kiir and Machar have inked seven ceasefires, all broken within days or even hours, but in talks on Saturday did not even meet in face-to-face.

Instead, they met separately with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who appealed for them to halt the war to "end the suffering of the people."

Rebel spokesperson Mabior Garang said the talks "failed to bear any tangible results”.

The UN children's agency said in a report last week that warring forces have carried out horrific crimes against children, including castration, rape and tying them together before slitting their throats. Others were thrown into burning houses.

Two-thirds of the country's 12 million people need aid, according to the UN.

Read more on:    south sudan  |  central africa

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