ADDIS ABABA - Mediators who brokered South Sudan's fragile ceasefire called Tuesday for the warring sides to abide by the deal, with bloodshed showing no sign of stopping despite promises made on paper.
"The parties should and must negotiate, and bring the fighting to an end," said Seyoum Mesfin, head mediator from the East African regional bloc IGAD.
Fighting broke out soon after dawn on Sunday, a day after the ceasefire was signed by President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar, the second time in the five-month conflict that a truce has failed to stick.
Both sides have blamed each other for launching ground attacks and artillery barrages, with the army reporting Tuesday rebels bombarding their positions at Dolieb, just south of the war-ravaged town of Malakal.
"It is another serious violation of the agreement," army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP, insisting government troops were "holding positions but not returning fire."
The ceasefire agreement, signed last week in Addis Ababa, was the fruit of weeks of mounting international pressure and shuttle diplomacy.
"All... must play their role and achieve a political solution," Seyoum told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, where dragging peace talks have made little if any progress to end a conflict that has sparked warnings of famine and genocide.
The war in the world's youngest nation has claimed thousands -- possibly tens of thousands -- of lives, with more than 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.
Refugees continue to flee
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said over 1,000 refugees were continuing to cross into Ethiopia every day, many arriving after days of trekking "famished, exhausted and malnourished".
The five-month conflict had very costly consequences, which according to some experts, will contribute to the occurence of famine in the world's newest country. CREDIT/AFP
Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party, who was arrested and put on trial for treason before being released as part of a peace gesture by Kiir, called on both sides to abide by the deal.
"Unfortunately, the agreement to immediately cease hostilities has not been respected," he said, after meetings with mediators, in an appeal for the two sides to "respect the lives of our people."
Amum, one of a group of 11 political heavyweights who were detained after fighting broke out on December 15, is now trying to negotiate between the two sides.
The call to stick by the ceasefire follows warnings by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the possibility of a "special tribunal" to try those responsible for abuses, noting there were "reasonable grounds" to believe crimes against humanity have been committed.
The conflict, which started as a personal rivalry between Kiir and Machar, has seen the army and communities divide along ethnic lines, pitting members of Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer.
"If the conflict continues, half of South Sudan's 12 million people will either be displaced internally, refugees abroad, starving or dead by the year's end," Ban added.
On Tuesday, South Sudan Information Minister Michel Makuei warned that if rebel fighters did not heed orders from their leaders, the army would take action.
"In case he (rebel leader Machar) cannot control them, then we are capable of controlling them," Makuei told AFP.
The International Crisis Group warned Tuesday of "mutually reinforcing military and political reasons" to continue fighting.
"Both sides believe they can capture or retake territory, including key towns and oil installations, and thereby strengthen their negotiating positions prior to substantive talks," the think tank said in a report.
Warring South Sudan rivals sign peace deal
Khartoum welcomes South Sudan peace deal