Troops Clash In South Sudan, African States To Mediate

Government forces were battling rebels to keep a foothold in a flashpoint town on Thursday, in a widening conflict that may split South Sudan along ethnic lines and has prompted an east African bid to mediate. Five days of fighting between soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, from the Nuer group, and troops backing President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, has killed up to 500 people in the two-year-old nation but has not hurt vital oil production. Violence that began in the capital Juba on Sunday evening has spread to the town of Bor, north of the capital. On Wednesday night, an official had said the government had lost control there. A group of East African foreign ministers will travel to South Sudan on Thursday to meet officials. "There is no fighting in the oil fields. They are peaceful. The oil is flowing as usual," Information Minister Michael Makuei Leuth told Reuters by telephone. He said political not ethnic rivalries were to blame. Petroleum Ministry spokesman Nicodemus Ajak Bior said production had not been affected. "For sure it is continuing." Oil earnings are South Sudan's main source of revenue, although production was shut for about 15 months until earlier this year because of a row with Sudan, which hosts the sole export pipeline. That cut off the flow of cash, which exacerbated political tensions brewing in the poor nation. Kiir sacked Machar in July, accusing him of seeking to seize power. Machar, who says Kiir has been acting like a dictator, has denied the accusation. Bor was the scene in 1991 of a massacre by Nuer troops of Dinka, the dominant group in South Sudan. Those memories caused panic among residents when fighting reached the area and many fled to a U.N. base for safety. "The rebels forces attacked Bor town yesterday evening. They managed to capture most of the town. Forces loyal to the government are resisting," the minister said, adding the clashes continued through the night and into Thursday morning. REUTERS