South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar wary of truce offer

People walk through a camp for displaced people in Juba, South Sudan, 27 December Some 63,000 people are now living at UN compounds

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar has said there must be proper negotiations before the rebels can agree to a truce with the government.

He was speaking after the government said it had agreed to an immediate end to fighting, in a declaration welcomed by East African leaders in Nairobi.

Fighting continued on Friday in the oil town of Malakal, Upper Nile State.

The first UN reinforcements have arrived to help control civilians seeking shelter at UN compounds.

About 63,000 people have turned to the UN for help, among more than 121,600 who have fled their homes in the world's newest state. At least 1,000 people have died in the fighting.

Unmiss Police Commissioner Fred Yiga: "Our biggest challenge right now is the protection of civilians."

President Salva Kiir is engaged in a deadly power struggle with Mr Machar, his former vice-president, since accusing him of a coup attempt. Members of Mr Kiir's Dinka ethnic group and Mr Machar's Nuer community have both been targeted.

The government has freed two of Mr Machar's allies from detention, partially meeting a rebel demand for the release of 11 coup plotters.

US envoy Donald Booth said in Juba he hoped the freed detainees would "participate in a constructive manner in the efforts to bring about peace... and resolve the political issues that sparked this conflict".

'No way'

Mr Machar spoke to the BBC World Service by satellite phone "from the bush", as he put it.

He said he had a negotiating team ready but any ceasefire had to be serious, credible and properly monitored.

Anne Soy reports from Juba: ''Many here are too frightened to venture out of the UN camp''

"So 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," he said.

He called for the release of all 11 detainees, a key rebel condition for any negotiations.

Mr Machar said the rebels controlled the whole of Unity State, three-quarters of Upper Nile State and all of Jonglei State except the state capital Bor.

He said he had spoken to the two detainees freed in Juba, whom he named as his executive director, Deng Deng Akon, and former Higher Education Minister Peter Adwok.

The government tweeted to say it had agreed "in principle to a ceasefire to begin immediately". Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek told regional broadcaster Radio Tamazuj: "It is not a unilateral offer, but it is a conditional offer to be accepted by the other party."

In Nairobi, South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said the government had agreed to suspend a planned offensive to recapture Bentiu, the capital of Unity State.

"We are not moving on Bentiu as long as the rebel forces abide by the ceasefire," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

East African regional leaders meeting in the Kenyan capital Nairobi said they would not accept a violent overthrow of the government and called on the warring sides to meet for talks within four days.

Police arrive

The first UN reinforcements have arrived since the UN Security Council voted to almost double the number of peacekeepers to 12,500.

A government tank in Juba, South Sudan, 16 December The government is believed to possess scores of tanks like the one seen here in Juba earlier this month.
An aerial view of Malakal, South Sudan (file image) This aerial view of Malakal was photographed in 2009
A South Sudanese woman sits with a child sits at the main hospital in Bor, after its recapture by government forces, 25 December The lives of tens of thousands of people have been disrupted by the fighting

A detachment of 72 Bangladeshi police officers based in Democratic Republic of Congo arrived by plane in Juba.

They are trained in crowd management and security, and will be deployed immediately to help with the growing number of people seeking shelter at UN compounds.

Violence has continued through the week with conflicting reports on Friday about the situation in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, where some 12,000 people have been sheltering at a UN base.

Both the army and rebels claimed to be in control of the town.

According to Radio Tamazuj, government forces drove rebel soldiers out of the town on Friday, shelling them from tanks.

Dozens of houses were destroyed in the fighting, with a tank shell killing a family of four inside one of them, while three dead bodies were found inside another, the radio said.

In another state, Jonglei, the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) treated gunshot victims who had walked for three days from the war-torn town of Bor in search of safe access to healthcare.

BBC map
News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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