January 5, 2014
The BBC’s Alastair Leithead was with government troops when they were ambushed
A South Sudanese army general has been killed in fighting outside the rebel-held town of Bor.
A BBC correspondent with government troops said a convoy advancing on Bor came under heavy fire in an ambush.
The fighting is continuing as the warring parties meet in Ethiopia to try to agree a ceasefire. Substantive talks appear to have been once again delayed.
The conflict pits supporters of President Salva Kiir against rebels led by his sacked deputy Riek Machar.
It began on 15 December after the president accused Mr Machar of attempting a coup – which he denies.
At least 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 200,000 displaced in the conflict, which has taken on ethnic undertones. Mr Kiir is from the Dinka community and Mr Machar from the Nuer group.
The BBC’s Alastair Leithead was travelling with government troops from the capital, Juba, on Sunday when the convoy came under attack about 25km (15 miles) from Bor.
The commanding general – who has not been named – was killed in the ambush.
The government has been sending reinforcements to try to retake Bor in recent days, bringing the total number of army troops involved to some 2,000.
A whole division of the South Sudanese army has joined the rebel side, so the fighting in Bor in effect involves two trained armies, our correspondent adds.
He says he saw evidence of the intensity of the fighting, with burnt-out tanks by the side of the road.
Fighting is also continuing in other areas. Army spokesman Philip Aguer said there had been clashes in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile in the north.
Up until Friday, the talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, were conducted by mediators. Now, teams representing the opposing factions are expected to negotiate face-to-face.
A preliminary meeting was held late on Saturday. Key issues are establishing a ceasefire, and the rebels’ demand for the release of what they see as political prisoners.
But substantive talks failed to get under way on Sunday, delayed by disagreements over the agenda and – an official was quoted as saying – by “protocol issues”.
It is now hoped talks will begin on Monday.
South Sudan spokesman Michael Makuei said the government would resist international pressure to free supporters of Mr Machar arrested in Juba at the start of the conflict.
He said releasing “those who attempted to overthrow a democratically elected government” would set a “bad precedent”.
“Are we not risking the governments of Africa and the rest of the world to such attempts? We should not be arm-twisted because we are a new nation.”
Meanwhile the first aid flight to South Sudan funded by the UK government has arrived in the country. The aircraft, carrying emergency aid and sanitation supplies, landed in Juba, on Sunday.
South Sudan is the world’s newest state. It was formed in 2011, gaining independence from Sudan after decades of conflict.
The latest trouble has its roots in tensions that go back long before 2011.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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%).