South Sudan rebel leader ‘captures key state’

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar says his troops have captured the key oil-producing state of Unity.

The former vice president also said on Saturday that the forces under his command fighting the government now have control of much of the country.

The political crisis began a week ago, after President Salva Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Reports say at least 500 people have been killed in the violence since then.

On Friday, Kiir reportedly agreed to participate in an “unconditional dialogue” to end deadly violence in the African country.

The president made the commitment to a team of mediators sent to Juba by the African Union in an effort to end fighting in which hundreds of people have been killed, said UN Security Council President Gerard Araud.

Kiir has “apparently agreed to enter into unconditional dialogue,” Araud said after an emergency Security Council meeting on the crisis in South Sudan.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon again called for renewed peace efforts on Friday, amid rising concerns that heavy fighting between rival army factions is pushing the two-year-old nation into civil war.

“The secretary general reiterates his call for all parties to exercise restraint, and to cease hostilities,” said a statement from Ban’s office.

The UN chief urged opposition leaders “to demonstrate compromise and leadership on behalf of the Southern Sudanese people, and to resolve their personal differences through dialogue immediately.”

The fighting between troops loyal to Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and opposition leader Riek Machar, a Nuer, erupted around Juba on December 15.

The South Sudanese president accused his arch-rival and former deputy, Machar, of attempting to topple his government, but he said the coup attempt had been foiled.

The government said on Tuesday that ten senior political figures had been arrested after the alleged coup attempt.

Machar has denied Kiir’s accusation that he had led a coup attempt.

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after its people overwhelmingly voted in a referendum for a split from the North.

The government in Juba is grappling with rampant corruption, unrest and conflict in the deeply impoverished but oil-rich nation, left devastated by decades of war.

PressTV – South Sudan rebel leader ‘captures key state’.