The United Nations Secretary General has issued a stern warning to all sides amid fears of civil war in South Sudan.
It comes as tens of thousands seek refuge at different UN compounds following a week of ethnic violence that began in the capital and has spread around the country.
UN staff have described bloody scenes including summary executions.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
“Let me be absolutely clear. The world is watching all sides in South Sudan. Attacks on civilians and the UN peacekeepers deployed to protect them must cease immediately. The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences.”
South Sudan’s government admitted on Sunday that forces loyal to the country’s former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar have taken control of Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, a key oil-producing region.
Accused by the president of attempting a coup, which he denies, Riek Machar said in a phone interview that his side was ready to talk – on conditions.
“We are ready to start dialogue as soon as my comrades under detention there are released and evacuated to a neutral ground preferably Addis Ababa, because these are the people who will engage in the dialogue. We want a peaceful settlement of this conflict,” he said.
Information Minister Michael Makuei immediately dismissed the demands made by Machar, who was sacked by President Salva Kiir in July. “There is no way we will release anybody who is accused of a coup d’etat,” Makuei told Reuters.
All the time more and more people displaced by the conflict are filling up all available space in UN compounds.
There are warnings that many more may seek shelter as fighting continues.