JUBA (Reuters) - Rebels in South Sudan killed four soldiers when they attacked a strategic northeastern town to try to push the government out ahead of a resumption of peace talks, a government spokesman said on Monday.
The soldiers came under heavy fire on Sunday in Waat town and 14 were also wounded, said Dickson Gatluak Jock, spokesman for Vice President Taban Deng Gai. The town in Eastern Bieh state is on a transit route used by rebels.
"Their (the rebels) main aim ... is to regain full control of the strategic town of Waat from our forces before the revitalization process kicks off in Addis Ababa," he told Reuters, adding that the situation remained tense.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long civil war. Fresh conflict broke out in late 2013 in which troops loyal to President Salva Kiir fought soldiers loyal to Riek Machar, the vice president he sacked.
The fighting divided the country along ethnic lines. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly 4 million people have fled their homes.
Regional body, IGAD, said it would start consultations in the Ethiopian capital in October with members of the transitional government of national unity including Machar and General Thomas Cirilo.
Rebels are still trying to oust the government from Waat to allow people to return to their homes there, said Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army In Opposition, the main rebel force.
"Our aim is to push them out of Waat, to make sure our civilians come back and the revitalization forum will find the civilians at home," he said. It was too early to determine casualties among their own forces as fighting continued, he said.
(Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)