JUBA: Fighting between South Sudanese rebels and government troops raged yesterday, just days after a fresh ceasefire deal, dashing hopes to a swift end to five months of civil war.
Both sides accused each other of attacking the other for a second day since the ceasefire officially came into force, with each claiming they are defending their positions.
Rebel chief Riek Machar said government forces had been on “a continuous offensive”, while Defence Minister Kuol Manyang reported insurgent attacks in the oil-producing state of Upper Nile.
Government troops had been ordered “not to go and attack, but only to fight in self defence,” Manyang told AFP.
Since President Salva Kiir and Machar signed a deal on Friday to halt fighting, both sides have blamed each other for launching ground attacks and artillery barrages.
Machar was “not in control of his forces”, Manyang said. He claimed heavily armed militia known as the White Army — who smear themselves in wood ash to ward off mosquitoes and as war-paint — had attacked government troops.
“These are irregular forces... they do not know about the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed,” he added.
Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said the army yesterday wrested back control of the flashpoint town of Bentiu — which the government said it had already recaptured last week — and charged the army with “indiscriminate, intensive and extensive shelling of surrounding villages”.
Kiir said on Sunday that elections due in 2015 would be postponed for “two or three years” to allow “reconciliation among the people”, prompting a furious response from Machar, a sacked vice-president who has said he wants to compete for the top job.
“If he (Kiir) were sincerely committed to peace, he would organise elections in 2015, it would be good for South Sudan,” Machar told reporters in the Ethiopian capital yesterday.
The conflict, which started as a personal rivalry between Kiir and Machar, has seen the army and communities divide along ethnic lines, pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer. Machar said the violence had created a “cycle of revenge”, but that he still wanted an end to the war.
“I have no personal anger,” Machar said about his rival. “I hope the peace process will succeed.”