South Sudanese troops will attack the main stronghold of rebel forces loyal to former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar if the government’s ceasefire offer is rejected, a senior minister said yesterday.
The government offered an olive branch to the rebels on Friday, proposing a ceasefire and saying it would release eight of 11 senior politicians widely seen to be Machar allies, who were arrested over an alleged coup plot against South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Yet Machar reacted coolly to the truce offer, telling the BBC that any ceasefire proposal needed to be credible and properly enforced for him to take it seriously.
“Until mechanisms for monitoring are established, when one says there is a unilateral ceasefire, there is no way that the other person would be confident that this is a commitment,” Machar said.
South Sudanese Minister of Information Michael Makuei said government troops yesterday morning pushed rebels out of the town of Mayom in Unity State and were ready to advance the 90km to Bentiu, the last state capital held by Machar’s forces.
“We will flush [Machar] out of Bentiu if he doesn’t accept the cessation of hostilities,” Makuei said by telephone from the capital, Juba.
Fighting between rival groups of soldiers erupted in Juba on Dec. 15, then triggered clashes in half of South Sudan’s 10 states — often along ethnic lines — between Machar’s group, the Nuer, and Kiir’s Dinka.
Washington, other Western power sand regional governments, fearful of a civil war in a fragile region with notoriously porous borders, have tried to mediate.
Makuei said the ceasefire offer remains in place and that the government has done all it can to bring about peace talks to end the 14 day conflict in which more than 1,000 people have been killed.
“We released two [senior politicians] yesterday, but he [Machar] has not done anything,” the minister of the interior said.
East African and Horn of Africa peace brokers gave Kiir and Machar until Tuesday to start face-to-face talks and stop two weeks of fighting that is thought to have left thousands dead.
“The communication is to both sides, and I think both sides have heard it loud and clear,” Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Dina Mufti said yesterday.
Ethiopia has spearheaded attempts to end the fierce battles, and UN, Washington and Beijing have also joined calls for talks.
The UN sent in peacekeeping reinforcements on Friday and more troops and equipment were to arrive yesterday. In all, 6,000 extra peacekeepers will be deployed.