Juba - International pressure bore down on Saturday on the
two sides in South Sudan's bloody violence to open peace talks to keep the
young nation from sliding into civil war.
East African and Horn of Africa peace brokers gave until 31 December
for President Salva Kiir and de facto rebel leader Riek Machar, whom Kiir
sacked as vice president in July, to start face-to-face talks and stop two
weeks of fighting that is thought to have left thousands dead.
"We, government, are ready to meet even before
that," South Sudan's Vice President James Wani Igga told reporters.
"It's now up to Machar to accept the ceasefire."
The government on Saturday reiterated accusations that
Machar was mobilising thousands of youths to attack its interests.
"Dr Riek mobilises his... youths, up to 25 000... and
wants to use them to attack the government" in the eastern state of
Jonglei, where rebels said to support Machar briefly captured the regional
capital, Bor, earlier this month, government spokesperson Michael Makuei told
"They are able to attack any time," he added.
"We are in a state of alert to protect the civilian populations."
But Moses Ruai Lat, spokesperson for the rebels, rejected
this, saying the former vice-president was "not mobilising his
tribe," the Nuer, South Sudan's second biggest ethnic group.
Those young people were regular soldiers turning their back
on the government and had not been drafted by Machar, he added.
The regional grouping the Inter-Governmental Authority on
Development is spearheading efforts to end the fierce battles for control over
several strategic oil-producing areas notably in the north of South Sudan.
The United Nations, Washington and Beijing are also pressing
"IGAD has already come out with the condition that the
contending parties should negotiate within four days beginning from
Friday," Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti said Saturday.
"So we are awaiting results."
The conflict, fuelled by an old rivalry between Kiir and
Machar, has fanned ethnic differences between Kiir's Dinka group and Machar's
Nuer clan in the country, which won independence from Sudan in 2011.
Reports of massacres, rapes and murders have emerged in
recent days. The United Nations - whose hard-pressed peacekeepers are to be
doubled to more than 12 000 - said one mass grave had been discovered and large
numbers of uncollected bodies were seen outside at least one UN base.
The fighting erupted on 15 December after Kiir accused his
former vice president of trying to mount a coup. Machar has denied the
allegation and retorted that Kiir was trying to eliminate his rivals.
Rebels quickly took control of a few key regional cities
including Bentiu, in the northern oil-producing state of Unity, as well as Bor
which was recaptured by the army on Tuesday.
On Saturday, South Sudan army spokesperson Philip Aguer told
AFP that all was calm in the main flashpoint areas of recent days, including
Malakal, capital of the oil-rich northeastern Upper Nile state, in Bor and in
Unity state where the army said it pushed back rebel attacks on Friday.