JUBA: South Sudan troops will attack the main stronghold of rebel forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar if the government's offer of a ceasefire is rejected, a senior minister said on Saturday.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in two weeks of ethnic clashes that threaten to turn into a full-blown civil war in the world's youngest country. Refugees sheltering in U.N. camps spoke of atrocities committed by both main ethnic groups.
President Salva Kiir's government offered an olive branch to the rebels on Friday, proposing a ceasefire and saying it would release eight of 11 senior politicians, widely seen to be Machar allies, arrested over an alleged coup plot against Kiir.
But Kiir's former deputy Machar reacted coolly to the truce offer, telling the BBC that any ceasefire needed to be credible and properly enforced for him to take it seriously.
"Until mechanisms for monitoring are established, when one says there is a unilateral ceasefire, there is no way the other person would be confident this is a commitment," Machar said.
Information Minister Michael Makuei said government troops on Saturday morning pushed rebels out of the town of Mayom in Unity State and were ready to advance the 90 km (55 miles) to Bentiu, the last state capital held by Machar's forces.
"We will flush (Machar) out of Bentiu if he doesn't accept the cessation of hostilities," Makuei told Reuters by phone from the capital Juba.
Fighting between rival groups of soldiers erupted in Juba on December 15, then triggered clashes in half of South Sudan's 10 states – often along ethnic lines, between Machar's group, the Nuer, and Kiir's Dinka.