World Bulletin / News Desk
South Sudanese rebels said they had seized control of the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state on Tuesday, in an assault the government branded a flagrant breach of a ceasefire signed in January.
The rebel strike was the first attack on a major town since the Jan. 23 ceasefire deal, but the government denied rebels now controlled Malakal, which lies on the fringes of a key oil-producing area in the country's northeastern corner.
The clashes will fuel concerns over the security of South Sudan's northern oil fields - an economic lifeline for the world's newest state - and raise pressure on both camps to revive stalled peace talks in neighbouring Ethiopia.
Gathoth Gatkuoth, commander for rebel forces in Upper Nile who is a close ally of former vice president Riek Machar, told Reuters by telephone his forces struck Malakal on Tuesday morning and swiftly retook the dusty market town.
Both camps have repeatedly accused the other of breaking the ceasefire accord. South Sudan on Tuesday voiced frustration at the lack of progress made deploying regional observers to flashpoint areas and said fighting continued in Malakal.
"It is a flagrant violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by both sides," South Sudan'sInformation Minister Michael Makuei told Reuters. "We have been calling on the envoys to expedite the establishment of the monitoring mechanism but nothing has happened so far."
Malakal lies about 140 km (90 miles) from Paloch, an oil complex where a key crude oil processing facility is situated.
South Sudan says it has already been forced to cut oil production by a fifth to 200,000 barrels per day, all of which is pumped from Upper Nile. Rebel control of Malakal could raise concerns over its ability to maintain the rate of output.
"All the oil from the fields around Upper Nile is pumped to Paloch," said Jacob Jok Dut, director of the Centre for Democracy and International Analysis who follows the oil industry closely. "If Malakal comes under rebel control, then definitely there will be tension in and around Upper Nile."
Oil accounts for 98 percent of government revenues. Oil firms in South Sudan, a country the size ofFrance, include China National Petroleum Corp, India's ONGC Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas. Work in some fields has been suspended.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 800,000 have fled their homes since fighting began two months ago, triggered by a power struggle between President Kiir and Machar, his former deputy whom he sacked in July.
Situated on 650 km (400 miles) north of the capital Juba on the banks of the White Nile, Malakal first fell to rebels after fighting broke out in mid-December before government forces recaptured it last month.
The rebel move on Malakal may be aimed at strengthening its hand before a second round of peace talks in Ethiopia.
An army spokesman in Juba said communication has been lost with the town and fighting continued in Malakal's southern area.
U.N. spokesman in South Sudan, Joe Contreras, said a U.N. camp in Malakal, where many of the displaced people had fled for protection, had been caught in the crossfire.
Peace talks had been due to resume last week, but were held up by a rebel demand that four remaining political prisoners held by the government be released and the Ugandan military, which is supportingKiir's army, withdraw from South Sudan.
Government officials privately acknowledge negotiations are unlikely to make progress until the senior political figures are freed. The government says the detainees tried to launch a coup.
Zuma was due to meet Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to try to resolve a political crisis in the small mountain kingdom after an apparent coup
The swift end to the ISIL's encirclement of the Shi'ite Turkmen town of 15,000 came amid a push by Kurdish peshmerga, Shi'ite militias and Iraqi troops, after U.S. air strikes
The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the 17 were were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 2-1/2 years to 26 years.
Berlin has announced it will send military supplies that will arm more than 4,000 Kurdish troops.
Mohammad Mohaqeq, one of Abdullah's vice presidential running mates, told Reuters the two sides could not agree on the powers of the chief executive, blaming the Ghani camp for hardening its position
Before his disappearance, activist and lawyer Mudar Hassan Khadur represented a rare but growing voice of public dissent among Alawites
The group was being held at a centre for illegal immigrants near the capital Skopje and that Macedonia plans to repatriate the immigrants to Greece.
If Ukraine scrapped its non-alliance status after the Oct. 26 vote, NATO would discuss with Kiev "how to move forward", Rasmussen said
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the government would not hesitate to enforce its writ and was considering cracking down against those attacking state institutions.
The government will seek to bring all abductees back regardless of whether they have been officially recognised as abducted
Negotiators hope a deal can draw a line under the decades of hostilities and instability in the desert north of the West African nation.
Protests descended into deadly chaos over the weekend, with demonstrators clashing with police in a central area near many government buildings and embassies
Israel announced the appropriation of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group said was the biggest such claim in 30 years
Miguel Vasquez, a spokesman for the Mayan elders, defended their decision, saying "the constitution protects us because we need to conserve and preserve our culture."
Voters in Scotland will decide on Sept. 18 whether they want to form an independent state with opinion polls showing Scots are likely to vote to keep their 307-union with England intact.
Iceland cut the level back to orange - the next highest level - saying the eruption was not creating ash.