JUBA — The South Sudanese government on said Friday that it is fighting thousands of troops loyal to a renegade military commander who rejected the cessation of hostilities agreement signed three weeks ago.
Government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said forces loyal to General Gat-hoth Gatkuoth, the former commissioner for Nasir county in Upper Nile state, have attacked positions held by the South Sudanese army, the SPLA, since the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on Jan. 23.
“That person has continued fighting, attacking SPLA positions," Ateny said, referring to Gatkuoth.
"He has been repulsed on a number of occasions and he is now on the run," he said.
Gatkuoth issued a statement two weeks after the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, rejecting the deal and vowing to continue fighting until Kiir has left office.
He accused Kiir of ordering the killing of civilians in the conflict that has rocked South Sudan since mid-December and said he did not believe Kiir would honor the deals signed in late January.
The agreements signed in Ethiopia called for an immediate end to fighting between pro- and anti-government forces in South Sudan, the withdrawal from South Sudan of all foreign forces that were invited into the country by either side, and the expeditious release of 11 political detainees.
Seven of the detainees were released to the custody of the Kenyan authorities and were in Ethiopia Friday for the second round of peace talks, but Ugandan troops, who were invited into the country by Kiir, are still in South Sudan. and sporadic fighting has continued around the country, with each side blaming the other for starting the new clashes.
Gatkuoth is reported to have broken ranks with former vice president Riek Machar, who announced early this month that he has set up a "resistance" movement against Kiir's government.
Kiir accused Machar, who went into hiding after the violence broke out on Dec. 15, of starting weeks of deadly violence in South Sudan by masterminding a failed coup bid against him -- a charge Machar has denied.
A second round of peace talks for South Sudan is under way in the Ethiopian capital.