JUBA - International efforts to bring peace to strife-torn South Sudan appeared at an impasse Sunday as the government accused former vice president Riek Machar of recruiting tens of thousands of fighters.
As the fighting which is believed to have killed thousands moves towards a third week, Juba claimed that Machar, the de facto leader of rebels fighting the government, has recruited up to 25,000 young men from his Nuer tribe in the eastern state of Jonglei who it says are "ready to attack any time".
According to Jonglei's acting governor Ogato Chan, the Nuer fighters were around 110 kilometres (70 miles) from the state capital of Bor, which he said was calm, for the moment at least.
"The information is that they want to come and attack Bor but I am sure they will not attempt to do it because the SPLA (Sudanese army) forces will repel them back," Chan said. "Now the army are taking position."
Rebel spokesman Moses Ruai Lat said Machar was "not mobilising his tribe", the second biggest ethnic group in South Sudan, describing the men instead as regular soldiers who had rejected the government and were not specifically drafted by Machar.
The accusations have cast a shadow over peace talks spearheaded by regional leaders to end the bloody violence which the international community fears could slide into civil war.
Regional leaders at the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have set Tuesday as a deadline for face-to-face talks between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy to end the fierce battles for control over several strategic oil-producing areas notably in the north of South Sudan.
While the government has said it was willing to observe a ceasefire, Machar has made demands including the release of his arrested political allies before committing to a truce.