Even as international diplomats tried unsuccessfully to secure a peace deal for South Sudan, fresh fighting broke out in the young country, a spokesman for the army said Friday.
South Sudan army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said rebel forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar launched attacks on government troops in the Western Bahr el Ghazal town of Siramalaka and in the town of Dukduk in Upper Nile State. He said one civilian, two army soldiers and at least 16 rebel fighters were killed in the fighting on Thursday.
Three rebel fighters were taken captive by the army, Aguer said, and are being held in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal state.
Attempts to contact the rebel side for comment were unsuccessful.
Peace talks extended
The latest clashes came as mediators from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa met separately with President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Machar to reach a peace deal by the deadline of midnight March 5.
When it became clear the deadline would come and go with no deal, IGAD extended the negotiations by one day. But even the extension did not produce a peace deal, raising fears among some South Sudanese that the country will plunge back into open conflict.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said the talks are only in recess, not completely stopped. He said the warring sides were told by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn that he will consult with heads of state and government of the eight-nation IGAD, which he chairs, and "let us know when we are to resume talking here in Addis."
Makuei gave no indication as to when the peace talks might resume.
IGAD has been trying to broker peace in South Sudan since January last year, but has little to show for its efforts.