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South Sudan rebels try to take Bor

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

South Sudan rebels try to take Bor

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JUBA, South Sudan (AP) – Heavy fighting erupted in Bor, South Sudan’s contested provincial capital of Jonglei state, as rebels moved to retake control of the town from government troops, a military official said today, signalling both sides were far from reaching the cease-fire deal that regional leaders hoped would be struck before the end of the year.
Government troops today fought renegade forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar as well as a pro-Machar tribal militia known as the “White Army”, said military spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer.
South Sudan’s government had been warning of a looming battle for Bor, which a renegade commander loyal to Machar briefly took before he was repulsed by government forces. That pro-Machar commander, Peter Gadet, has mobilized “elements of the White Army” in a bid to retake the town, according to Aguer.
Bor is the town where gunfire hit three United States military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens on December 21, wounding four U.S. service members.
The recapturing of Bor, which is only about 120 kilometres from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, could give Machar an upper hand at the negotiating table, a possible reason why he has not yet agreed to begin talks.
South Sudan has been hit by unrest since December 15, when fighting among presidential guards later spiralled across the country. Although Juba has since become calm, violence persists in other parts of the oil-producing East African country.
Rebel forces still control Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, and it appeared today they would try to seize Bor from the 2 100 government troops who control the town, Aguer said.
Regional leaders under a bloc known as IGAD last week set today as the deadline for President Salva Kiir and Machar to start peace talks.