* South Sudan says recaptures Bentiu, in Unity state
* World's youngest state risks slide into civil war
* U.S. weighs targeted sanctions against S. Sudan - sources
(Adds Ban Ki-moon urges Kiir to free detainees)
By Carl Odera
JUBA, Jan 10 South Sudan's army said it regained
a rebel-held northern town on Friday, giving the government
control of a region where oil production had been halted by
fighting that has left the world's youngest nation close to
Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir recaptured Bentiu, the
capital of Unity state, in early afternoon, army spokesman
Philip Aguer told Reuters. "When you control Bentiu you control
all the oilfields in Unity state," he said.
More than three weeks of fighting between government forces
and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar have
killed more than 1,000 people and driven 230,000 from their
homes and forced a cut in oil production.
Rebels made a "tactical withdrawal to avoid civilian
casualties" in Bentiu, according to Lul Ruai Koang, a military
spokesman for the rebel delegation attending stuttering peace
talks in Ethiopia.
He said rebels continued to hold the surrounding
countryside. He said the government forces had been backed by
fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group
from Sudan's Darfur province.
South Sudan's rebels also accused neighbouring Uganda of
aiding Kiir by launching air strikes against their positions,
something Kampala denies. Ugandan troops already patrol Juba's
airport and guard the presidential palace, at Kiir's request.
South Sudan's oil production fell by 45,000 barrels per day
to 200,000 bpd after oilfields in Unity state were shut down due
to fighting. Upper Nile state is still pumping about 200,000
bpd, the government says.
U.S. WEIGHS SANCTIONS
Separately, sources briefed on U.S. discussions said
Washington was weighing targeted sanctions against South Sudan
due to its leaders' failure to end the crisis. Such sanctions
focus on individuals, entities or sectors in a country.
"It is a tool that has been discussed," one source told
Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
The possibility of sanctions against a country Washington
helped create in 2011 shows how frustrated President Barack
Obama's administration has become with Kiir and Machar's rebel
Washington on Thursday also cranked up the pressure for a
deal, saying South Sudan risked losing hundreds of millions of
dollars in U.S. aid if the two sides did not end the violence.
The fighting, often along ethnic lines, is the worst in
South Sudan since it won independence from Sudan in 2011. The
unrest threatens to destabilise fragile east Africa.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Kiir to release all
political detainees and called for "the two sides to negotiate
And earlier on Friday, the United Nations in South Sudan
accused both rebels and government forces of obstructing aid.
Rebels had looted warehouses, commandeered aid agency
vehicles and ransacked property in both Bentiu and the town of
Bor, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said.
Meanwhile, government authorities had hampered U.N. flights
carrying supplies for peacekeepers and clinics and stopped some
peacekeeper patrols, it said.
"These are clear violations of the agreement that regulates
the United Nations' presence in South Sudan and is preventing
UNMISS from implementing its mandate," mission chief Hilde
Johnson said in a statement.
President Kiir's SPLA government forces have also been
fighting to regain control of Bor, capital of the restive
In meetings in Ethiopia, the two camps are haggling over
terms of a ceasefire. They were expected on Friday to submit
their recommendations to a ceasefire proposal drafted by
Banks, markets and bars were open as normal in the capital,
Juba, but food prices have jumped, petrol pumps are running dry
and the South Sudanese pound is weakening on the black market.
While Uganda has publicly denied air strikes, two Ugandan
military sources with knowledge of the operations said they were
aware of airborne attacks, adding that 1,500-1,800 Ugandan
troops were inside South Sudan.
"In Bor our boys have been backing up the SPLA in the latest
push to retake it," one Ugandan officer told Reuters. "Yesterday
(Thursday) our MiGs conducted two bombings there."
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has said east African
nations would have to "defeat" Machar if he rejected a
ceasefire, has come under fire at home for deploying troops
across the border without seeking parliament's permission.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa, Richard
Lough in Nairobi, Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols at the
United Nations, Warren Strobel in Washington; Writing by Richard
Lough and James Macharia; Editing by Alister Doyle)