Nairobi — South Sudan's military says the so-called White Army militia is marching on the capital of Jonglei state, threatening to escalate violence in the country just a day after the government announced a cease-fire. The rebel opposition has dismissed calls to end hostilities until all political prisoners are freed.
Military spokesman Philip Aguer told VOA Saturday that thousands of armed ethnic Nuer youths are heading toward the South Sudan city of Bor. That raises the prospects of renewed fighting in a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his rival, former vice president Riek Machar.
"In Jonglei, Riek Machar has been mobilizing the so-called White Army, the Lou Nuer youth, and has been moving with them toward Bor with the intention of launching a second attack on Bor," said Aguer.
Rebel military factions took control of Bor last week, only to have government forces reclaim it a few days ago. Aguer says the military is capable of repelling an attack.
The White Army is a group of armed civilians from the Nuer ethnic group that in the past has organized thousands of fighters to launch attacks in Jonglei state, mostly targeting the Murle community.
Ethnic tensions have escalated since the crisis began two weeks ago. That's when fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, between supporters of President Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, a Nuer. The violence has since spread across the country.
On Friday, at the urging of the international community, South Sudan's government announced it was ready to cease hostilities to allow peace talks.
Rebecca Nyandeng, an ally of Machar, told VOA Saturday her side will not agree to a cease-fire until the government frees 11 political leaders detained on allegations they had plotted a coup.
"The cessation of hostilities will come when the people are released and when the people are released we'll send the signal to the people that the government means peace and reconciliation," Nyandeng said.
The government had said it will not accept any conditions for talks with Machar's camp, including the release of political prisoners. But Juba relaxed that position on Friday, saying it will release some detainees.
Nyandeng says the offer is not enough. "It is a reality, it is not a precondition, because if these people are not out, the government will negotiate with who?"
United Nations officials have said more than a thousand people have been killed in the fighting. More than 63,000 people are said to be taking refuge in U.N. bases across the country.