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JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan's military has launched a full-scale military offensive against rebels despite calls for restraint, a regional monitoring group said Friday, accusing the government of preventing mediators from accessing scenes of fighting.
The regional bloc known as IGAD, which has been mediating peace talks between South Sudan's warring factions, said in a statement Friday that the latest fighting is "unwarranted and appalling."
South Sudanese government troops have prevented mediators from moving freely in Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, since government troops launched a military offensive late last month, according to IGAD.
Earlier this week, the U.N. announced there were credible reports of atrocities being carried out, including killing of civilians, rape, abductions of boys and the torching of 28 villages.
South Sudanese military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said government troops have been ordered to pursue rebels in what he called a "preventive operation" in Jonglei state as well as south of Unity state.
Last week, the South Sudanese military moved from Bentiu toward the key rebel stronghold of Leer, forcing international aid workers to evacuate the town and leave civilians behind. This week, the army also moved toward Leer from government-held Lakes state, clashing with rebels in neighboring Panyijar and Mayandit counties.
Rebel spokesman Dickson Gatluak said fighting is ongoing in Mayandit and that government forces were repulsed in Panyijar.
Aid workers fled Panyijar ahead of the offensive, according to international humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, which said it evacuated some of its staff from the county amid heavy fighting.
"The new wave of intense violence coincides with the height of the country's planting season, renewing worry about the adequacy of the food supply in the coming months," Mercy Corps said.
The U.N. says 100,000 people have been displaced by the latest fighting in Unity State and that 500,000 needy people are without humanitarian aid.
Associated Press reporter Elias Meseret contributed to this report from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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