Negotiators of the South Sudan government and its opposition continued deliberations in Addis Ababa to defuse a four-week long armed rebellion that could, according to latest estimates by the International Crisis Group, have killed nearly 10,000 civilians and displaced another 200,000 thus far.

Mediators from both sides struggled to finalise the details of the “cessation of hostilities” agreement that could stop the violence and pave the way for a political resolution to a crisis that has pitted forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir against his former deputy Riek Machar’s militias.

On Friday, both sides confirmed that government forces had retaken Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state. Opposition military spokesperson Brig. General Lul Ruai Koang termed the rebel withdrawal from Bentiu a “strategic retreat” but said his forces still controlled the rest of Unity state as also, Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.

The delay in signing an agreement in Addis Ababa, Brig. Gen. Koang said, could be linked to the government’s attempt to regain areas under rebel control, as a ceasefire would force both sides to respect each other’s territory. “Each side is likely to use territory under its control as leverage in the talks,” surmised a diplomat.

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