The US has said it will dispatch a special envoy to South Sudan as a wave of ethnic violence sweeps the country. The UN, meanwhile, has expressed "grave alarm" as the number of fatalities rises.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said on Friday that Washington's Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth, would travel to the region at short notice.
Kerry said the move was intended to place pressure on the country's leaders to deal with a crisis that, in the past week of violence, has seen some 500 deaths in the capital, Juba, alone.
"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 in a statement.
The decision came after Kerry spoke to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on Thursday to urge him to work towards reconciliation.
South Sudan is the world's newest country, having split from Sudan in July 2011, following a 22-year civil war and subsequent peace deal. However, fears have arisen that the country could itself descend into civil war, with tension high between the ethnic Dinka and Nuer peoples.
The UN Security Council on Friday expressed "grave alarm" at the rapidly deteriorating security crisis and urged both the president and former Vice President Riek Machar "to demonstrate leadership in bringing a swift and peaceful resolution to this crisis."
Kiir, who is ethnically Dinka, has accused Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of staging an attempted coup. Machar, whose whereabouts are unknown, has denied the charge.
The UN said on Friday that 35,000 people continue to seek refuge at its bases in three locations across the country. Several hundred people were also said to be seeking shelter in Bentiu, the capital of the troubled Unity state.
rc/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters)