* Machar calls for president to resign
* Says army has conducted campaign of ethnic cleansing
* Fighting has killed thousands, curbed oil production
* Demands release of remaining political detainees
(Adds new quotes, details)
By Goran Tomasevic
JONGLEI STATE, South Sudan, Jan 31 South Sudan
rebel leader Riek Machar accused the government on Friday of
ethnic cleansing and trying to sabotage peace talks, in his
first face-to-face interview since fighting erupted late last
year in Africa's youngest nation.
Dressed in dark green military fatigues and speaking to
Reuters in his bush hideout, Machar branded President Salva Kiir
a discredited leader who had lost the people's trust and should
Thousands have been killed and more than half a million have
fled their homes since fighting erupted in the capital Juba in
mid-December and spread quickly across the oil-producing nation,
often following ethnic lines.
The two sides signed a ceasefire on Jan. 23 in the Ethiopian
capital Addis Ababa, but each has accused the other of breaking
"Salva Kiir has committed atrocities in Juba, he has engaged
in ethnic cleansing and he is still involved in the process,"
His comments highlighted the gulf between the sides, who are
meant to resume their troubled peace talks in Ethiopia next
week. Regional and world powers are worried fighting could break
out again and spill over into neighbouring states.
South Sudan's justice minister said this week that former
vice president Machar and six of his closest allies should face
treason charges, accusing him of trying to launch a coup.
"I am not aware of why we should face those charges for an
alleged coup that never happened," Machar said. "(It) is another
attempt to stop peace talks."
Machar has regularly denied starting the violence or trying
to seize power, and has accused the president of taking
advantage of an outburst of fighting between rival groups of
soldiers to round up political rivals.
The United Nations and rights groups say both warring sides
have committed atrocities, in a conflict that has taken the
country to the brink of civil war. The government and rebels
both accuse each other of ethnically motivated killings.
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that government
SPLA forces had targeted civilians from Machar's Nuer group in
Juba early on in the conflict, while rebel forces had butchered
members of Kiir's Dinka tribe in other towns.
GUNS AND LAUNDRY
In Machar's bush camp, hidden in the thorny scrub of South
Sudan's vast Jonglei state which has untapped oil reserves,
assault rifles stood propped up against a tree and laundry hung
drying in the branches.
Nearby, Machar's wife Angelina Teny, a former mining and
energy minister in the united Sudan before the South seceded in
2011, was typing on a laptop in front of her tent.
The rebel leader said Kiir had lost the support of the
country's 11 million people. Asked what he wanted from the peace
talks, Machar, who was sacked by Kiir in July, said he had no
interest in being reinstated as vice president.
"It would be best for Kiir to resign. We are due for
elections in 2015. Before the elections there would be an
interim government," Machar said, declining to say who might
Machar blamed the army for the ceasefire violations. The
army was, he said, battling to extend its control outside the
towns of Malakal and Bentiu, near the country's main oil fields,
and Bor, scene of some of the heaviest clashes.
Regional leaders said on Friday they aimed to deploy the
first members of a team to monitor the shaky ceasefire at the
Even so, obstacles still lie in the way of the peace talks
re-starting on time.
Four of the six senior political figures accused of treason
alongside Machar are in detention in Juba. Machar pressed for
their release after the government on Wednesday freed seven
other detainees, but declined to say if he would call back his
negotiators if the government refused.
"It will not be an inclusive peace process if they're not
there. A non-inclusive process would hurt the people of Sudan,"
Machar said Kiir had only survived the uprising because
Uganda's military had intervened. Uganda has admitted its army
provided air and ground support to Kiir's troops, raising
concerns among diplomats that the wider region could be sucked
into the conflict.
"If it was not for the interference of the Ugandans, we
would be in Juba now," Machar said.
Asked if that meant he would be in power, he replied: "Not
necessarily, but Kiir wouldn't have been president."
(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)