, JUBA, South Sudan, Aug 20 – Peace efforts in South Sudan were in tatters as warring rivals blamed each other for attacks and the army claimed that the rebels had broken their own peace deal hours after signing.
The government of the world’s youngest nation has refused to ink the power-sharing deal, despite the threat of sanctions and mounting international frustration at the failure to seal a peace accord.
It prompted the African Union to warn Wednesday that the rivals would bring “disaster” on themselves and the region if no deal is signed.
The 20-month-long war shows no sign of stopping.
“There was a heavy attack by the rebels, but we fought back in self-defence and repulsed them,” army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP, describing battles Wednesday in the Manyo district of the northeastern oil-producing Upper Nile state.
Rebels accused the government of wanting a military solution, and said they were attacked near the small but strategic southern town of Pageri on Tuesday, on the main road south from the capital Juba towards the Ugandan border.
Rebel general James Koang Chuol said his troops had then seized Pageri, claiming they now controlled the key highway.
Aguer, however, said the government was in control of Pageri.
He dismissed the rebel claims as “lies”, saying that while two government soldiers were killed in fighting, they were attacked by unknown gunmen raiding cattle.
Reports of fighting could not be independently confirmed, but the blame game came after a Monday deadline ended to sign a peace deal.
While rebel chief Riek Machar signed the document at talks in Ethiopia, President Salva Kiir only initialled part of it, and said he would return to the table in early September to finalise the accord. READ: S.Sudan talks end without government deal, to resume in 15 days.
The US State Department said Kiir had told Secretary of State John Kerry that he has “every intention” of signing the agreement.
“He said he needed a couple more days of consultations but he made it very clear that it was his intention to sign,” a spokesman said.
Aguer, meanwhile, accused the rebels of breaking the deal. “You cannot sign a peace agreement and then launch an attack hours later,” he said.