South Sudan's government said yesterday it was battling to retake the key rebel-held town of Bentiu, as thousands of civilians continued to flee fighting across the country.
The ongoing fighting, mainly in the oil-rich north and around Bor in the centre, came as peace talks being held in neighbouring Ethiopia appeared to be deadlocked.
The rebels say they will only agree to a ceasefire if the government frees a group of alleged coup plotters detained after the fighting began more than three weeks ago, although the government has ruled this out.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP that troops loyal to President Salva Kiir were now "next to Bentiu," capital of Unity State and one of South Sudan's main oil-producing areas, and that clashes were continuing yesterday.
He added that government troops were also some 15 kilometres from Bor, capital of the restive Jonglei state and situated 200 kilometres north of Juba the only other major town in rebel hands.
An AFP correspondent in Minkammen, on the other side of the swamps of the crocodile-infested White Nile river from Bor, said hundreds of people are making a perilous journey by boat and on foot to escape the fighting, joining 80,000 others -- the single largest concentration of people displaced by the conflict.
Unity State is where much of fledgling oil producer South Sudan's best-quality crude is pumped. The country's oil production has dropped by around a fifth since the fighting began, depriving the impoverished nation of a key source of foriegn currency.