LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The end of the rainy season is imminent and warring parties in South Sudan's civil war are preparing for major offensives likely to cause fresh displacement and hunger, the think-tank International Crisis Group said in a report.
President Salva Kiir's government forces and rebels allied to his former deputy Riek Machar have been fighting since December 2013, despite ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa and several ceasefire agreements. A growing number of militias and self-defence forces are joining the conflict.
Several powerful generals on both sides say they intend to fight on, even if the political leaders sign an agreement in Addis.
"We will settle this with war," the report quotes one opposition commander as saying.
Fighting eased during the rainy season, giving both sides time to import arms and marshal their forces, the ICG said. The dry season is expected to start in November.
The government has spent tens of millions of dollars on arms, mostly funded by oil revenue, and recruited many fighters, including children, to replace troops and weapons it lost in desertions and defections to the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO).
"Renewed conflict is likely to be accompanied by widespread displacement, atrocity crimes and famine," the report said.
About 1.4 million people have been displaced by violence within South Sudan and 469,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, according to U.N. figures.
RISK OF MASS STARVATION
Fighting has also disrupted harvests and food markets. Famine was averted this year by emergency food aid and normal rainfall, but U.N. agencies warned in September that there was a risk of mass starvation in early 2015.
At least 3.8 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian aid this year, the United Nations says.
There are now at least 24 armed groups in South Sudan, including militias supporting both sides, and the Ugandan army and Sudanese rebels who are both backing the government.
Major government victories are unlikely to end the rebellion, because many armed groups and community leaders feel alienated from the Addis peace talks, the ICG said.
"Furthermore, given the Ugandan army and Sudanese rebel deployments on its behalf, government advances will likely threaten Sudan's national security interests, increase regional tensions and further inflame the conflict," the report said. (Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Tim Pearce)