Officials in South Sudan's largest oil-producing state, Upper Nile, said Thursday that clashes are continuing in parts of the state between pro- and anti-government forces, with reports saying scores of fighters have been killed.
Upper Nile Information Minister Philip Jiben Ogai said he had received reports that 82 anti-government fighters were killed and more than 100 wounded in the clashes.
He was unable to report on fatalities or injuries among the pro-government Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), but said they had driven the rebels back to a remote part of northern Jonglei state.
“The situation is under control. Even the oil field is all right," Ogai said. The bulk of South Sudan's oil, which is the backbone of the young country's economy, is produced in Upper Nile state, with the remainder coming from Unity state.
Ogai blamed the anti-government forces for starting the unrest near Malakal and violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on January 23.
But a spokesman for the opposition forces, Lul Ruai Koang, laid the blame for the clashes with the SPLA.
Koang also said the pro-government side had vastly inflated the death toll in the fighting, adding that reports he had received said fewer than 10 people were killed in the clashes.
The new outbreak of violence in Upper Nile came as the two sides in South Sudan's conflict gathered in Addis Ababa for a second round of talks to establish a political dialogue and foster national reconciliation in the young country, where some 900,000 people have been displaced from their homes and thousands killed since violence erupted in mid-December.
"The government is not even ready to give this second round a very conducive environment,” Koang said.
The fighting in Upper Nile is just the latest breach of the three-week-old cessation of hostilities agreement. Fierce fighting has also been reported in Leer in Unity state, and at least 32 civilians were reported to have been killed last week in an attack on a village near the Jonglei state capital, Bor. Both sides have traded accusations over who was responsible for starting the new clashes.
President Salva Kiir has blamed weeks of deadly violence in South Sudan on a failed bid to oust him that he says was masterminded by former vice president Riek Machar and a dozen other senior figures in the ruling SPLM party, all of whom have denied the accusations.
Lucy Poni contributed to this report from Nairobi