South Sudan rebels 'withdraw from Nasir after battles'

South Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier patrols in Malakal on 21 January 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rebel and government forces have been fighting since December in the world's newest state

Government forces in South Sudan have retaken the strategic town of Nasir in Upper Nile state attacked by rebels on Sunday, the UN says.

It was the scene of the worst clashes since a ceasefire was agreed in May.

UN peacekeepers say there was heavy gunfire in the town overnight and early in the morning.

Further talks are due to start next week as attempts continue to end the conflict that broke out in December, leaving 1.5 million people homeless.

What began as a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, has escalated into ethnic violence.

The rivals met in May and recommitted themselves to a ceasefire negotiated in January by regional leaders.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many people have left their homes and sought refuge at UN compounds across the country

The government says rebel forces, who said they seized Nasir in an act of "self-defence" because of several attempts by government forces to arrest their commander, withdrew after being overpowered.

But rebel spokesman Maj GenlLul Ruai Koang said the withdrawal was only tactical.

The UN mission in South Sudan says the number of casualties from the latest fighting is not yet clear.

South Sudan is the world's newest state and became independent in 2011.

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

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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