JUBA - South Sudanese government forces said Sunday they had overrun a key rebel base and that heavy fighting was raging for control of the northern oil hub of Bentiu following a major offensive.
"Our forces captured Nasir this morning. After we launched an assault yesterday with heavy bombardments, the town is ours," South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP, adding that rebel leader Riek Machar had fled towards the Ethiopian border.
"The rebels including Riek Machar are fleeing towards the Ethiopian border, we are still advancing," the spokesman said.
"In Bentiu we launched a major assault at the same time, our forces are there and have been fighting. We are awaiting confirmation of its capture, but we are hopeful of good news."
The attack comes just days after the country's president, Salva Kiir, agreed during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to hold direct talks with Machar on ending the brutal four-month-old conflict.
Independent aid sources, who asked not to be identified, confirmed there was fierce fighting in and around Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, as well as around Nasir, situated close to the border with Ethiopia and one of the main bases of Machar and his rebel army.