Fighting has broken out in South Sudan after a lull of several weeks. Each of the two sides has accused the other of launching attacks, as the country's food crisis deepens.
Government troops and rebels clashed on Friday in South Sudan in heavy fighting near the town of Bentiu, the capital of the state of Unity, and in the Ayod region of Jonglei state.
In Bentiu, fighting was reported to have continued for several hours around the key airport zone outside the town, close to a United Nations base packed with more than 40,000 people seeking safety from attacks. The city, now under government control, has traded hands several times since last December, when a civil war erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel fighters under former Vice President Riek Machar.
The military accused rebels of launching a dawn attack in Ayod, and said they had been repulsed with heavy casualties. A rebel spokesman said the violence was the start of a "long-awaited government offensive."
The renewed fighting comes just three days after UN envoys visiting the just three-year-old nation warned both government and rebels of "consequences" if fighting continued.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million have fled during the conflict, which has unleashed a food crisis that the UN has called the "worst in the world." Aid workers have warned of a famine within weeks if the civil war does not cease.
The fighting has continued despite the signing of two peace deals this year, and chances of it abating in the foreseeable future seem slight, with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power saying on Tuesday there had been "very worrying reports" of arms being brought into the country for a fresh offensive.
South Sudan has barely known peace since declaring independence from its northern neighbor Sudan in July, 2011. Disputes with Sudan, particularly over division of oil revenues - 75 percent of Sudan's former oil reserves are now in South Sudan - remain partly unresovled and have also led to conflict in the past.
tj,glb (AFP, AP)