South Sudan president offers talks with rival

AFP , Wednesday 18 Dec 2013

Juba
In this handout image provided by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, taken on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, a United Nation soldier stands guard as civilians arrive at the UNMISS compound adjacent to Juba International Airport to take refuge (Photo: AP)

South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Wednesday he is willing to hold talks with his arch-rival former deputy he accuses of leading a coup bid against him.

Kiir has accused soldiers loyal to Riek Machar of staging a coup attempt in the oil-rich but deeply impoverished nation, which has struggled with instability since becoming independent in 2011.

"I will sit down with him -- Riek (Machar) -- and talk... but I don't know what the results of the talks will be," Kiir told reporters.

Machar has denied any attempt to topple the president, and has instead accused Kiir of using the violence as a pretext to purge any challengers.

The government said 10 key figures, many of them former ministers, have been arrested in the crackdown, and that others, including Machar, were on the run.

Kiir also said powerful military commander Peter Gadet -- who rebelled in 2011 but then rejoined the army -- had mutinied again, launching attacks in the eastern state of Jonglei in support of Machar.

Fighting was reported overnight Tuesday in Jonglei's state capital Bor, with shooting breaking out again in the early hours of Wednesday.

"Those who have killed people will be taken to court and be tried," Kiir said, urging calm and calling on the thousands seeking shelter at United Nations peacekeeping bases to return home.

The UN also reported clashes in the town of Torit, state capital of Eastern Equatoria.

The fighting has highlighted the bitter fault lines in the country, which is awash with guns after decades of war.

Kiir and Machar hail from different ethnic groups and fought on different sides during Sudan's civil war.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the fighting, but Kiir said the conflict was political and "not a tribal fight."

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