The US and other foreign powers stepped up pressure on South Sudan’s feuding ethnic factions to settle their differences, as Washington dispatched an envoy to the violence-wracked region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday he was sending a special envoy to encourage talks between opposing factions in the world’s newest country, which has erupted into brutal fighting with a mounting death toll.
“Now is the time for South Sudan’s leaders to rein in armed groups under their control, immediately cease attacks on civilians, and end the chain of retributive violence between different ethnic and political groups,” Kerry said, as he announced plans to dispatch US Ambassador Donald Booth, his special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, to the region.
The announcement came one day after US President Barack Obama said in a message to Congress that the US has deployed 45 troops to protect US personnel and assets in South Sudan.
African ministers also were stepping up pressure on South Sudanese President Salva Kiir to start talks with former South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar, and met with the president on Friday in the capital, Juba.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the violence for the second time in as many days, issuing an appeal on Friday for renewed efforts to restore peace.
He called for “all parties to exercise restraint and to cease hostilities,” one day after an attack on a UN base killed at least 11 civilians and two Indian peacekeepers.
Violence erupted after a meeting last week of leaders of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) failed to ease tensions in the party.
Kiir has accused Machar, whom he fired in July along with his entire Cabinet, of staging an attempted coup. The former vice president has denied the charge, but his whereabouts are unknown.
Even as diplomatic initiatives were multiplying, the death toll continued to climb as violence spread between rival ethnic groups.
Six days into the battles between followers of Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer, at least 500 people have been killed in Juba alone.
Meanwhile, foreign governments scrambled to get their nationals out of harm’s way.
Britain sent a second military transporter to Juba on Friday to evacuate 93 people from the country.
China National Petroleum Corporation started pulling its workers out of South Sudan’s oil fields and other Chinese firms followed the move, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Uganda said it also deployed special forces to get its nationals out of Juba and help secure the city.
The ethnic divide grew with reports from around the country of killings of Dinka and Nuer people.
UN officials reported that up to 3,000 armed youths had gathered around a camp where 14,000 people have sought refuge at Bor, the main town in Jonglei state.
France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud said after emergency UN Security Council talks on Friday that there was “heavy fighting” in Bor and worries about where the youths might be heading.
Troops loyal to Machar seized Bor on Wednesday.
The UN says more than 35,000 people are sheltering in its compounds across the country and Juba airport was packed with foreigners scrambling to escape the chaos.
The UN was still verifying the toll in the rest of South Sudan.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan as part of a peace process after a two-decade civil war that left two million people dead.