South Sudan ceasefire violated, rebels and government say

S Sudan army soldiers walk past destroyed property in Bentiu, 19 April 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ceasefire breaches are reported in Bentiu, which has previously witnessed serious violence

The army and rebels in South Sudan have accused each other of breaching a ceasefire, only hours after it was meant to come into effect.

The army said rebels attacked government positions in the early hours of Sunday in the town of Bentiu in oil-rich Unity State.

The rebels said their positions were targeted by ground attack and artillery in Unity and Upper Nile states.

A deal to end the five-month conflict was signed on Friday in Ethiopia.

At the signing ceremony in Addis Ababa, President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar met face-to-face for the first time since hostilities broke out and agreed to halt fighting within 24 hours.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal in Ethiopia on Friday

But in a statement issued on Sunday, rebel military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said the reported violations showed "that Kiir is either insincere or not in control of his forces."

For the army, spokesman Philip Aguer said the rebel attacks in Bentiu had been repelled.

There has been no independent verification of either side's claims.

A previous deal, made in January, collapsed in days, with each side accusing the other of breaching terms.

Earlier, the UN called on both sides to facilitate deliveries of emergency aid to a population in danger of mass hunger.

The UN estimates that some five million of South Sudan's citizens are in need. At least 1.5 million have been displaced and thousands of people have been killed.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rebel and government forces have been fighting since December in the world's newest state

Toby Lanzer, the UN's top aid official in the region, said roads and rivers must be opened for emergency relief.

The hope had been that the ceasefire would pave the way for the creation of a transitional government, the drafting of a new constitution and fresh elections.

'Crimes against humanity'

The UN has accused both the South Sudanese government and the rebels of crimes against humanity, including mass killings and gang-rape.

The violence began when President Kiir accused his sacked deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the allegation, but then marshalled a rebel army to fight the government.

The battle assumed ethnic overtones, with Mr Machar relying heavily on fighters from his Nuer ethnic group and Mr Kiir from his Dinka community.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan. However, they have struggled to contain the conflict.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, breaking away from Sudan after decades of conflict between rebels and the Khartoum government.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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.
Image caption 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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